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    I learned that fear and frustration are natural feelings. I learned to accept my fears and communicate my fears to my wife.

    Support Partner

    by Thomas Stewart, JD, PA-C

    Q: Is the SSDI amount received or eligibility to earn SSDI affected by other disability funds received?

    A: Social security will not reduce your disability benefits (SSDI) because you receive, for example, private disability benefits.  However, private disability benefits will usually be reduced by the amount you receive from Social Security.

    Q: Once determined disabled, am I eligible to work?  If so, what are the conditions?

    A: Yes, but this is tricky and important to get right.  A good place to start is   Always communicate your earnings to Social Security to avoid over-payments. 

    Q: I took a job under the right to work.  My job ended and I applied for unemployment while still receiving SSDI.  I am 65 years old and will not be looking for another job due to age.  Can I collect until I reach 66 years old in about 8 months?

    A: Unemployment insurance (UI) benefits are not counted under the Social Security annual earnings test.  Accordingly, receiving UI should not affect your receipt of Social Security benefits.

    It is important to contact your state unemployment office for more information on whether and by how much the state will reduce UI benefits. (Readers of this answer should understand that this is an unusual situation.  This person is already receiving SSDI benefits and has began a trial return to work period.  In general, applications for Social Security may be affected by the receipt of UI, especially as this is sometimes considered in relation to an applicant’s credibility.)

    Q: I have private disability insurance with my employer. Can you explain how private disability is different than social security?

    A: Because of the variability of private disability policies, they are difficult to generalize.  That said, usually private disability benefits, at least initially, use a less demanding standard of disability.  Private disability policies will typically pay benefits to people who are no longer able to perform the essential functions of their current job, at least for a period of time.  In general, Social Security will pay benefits according to a more demanding standard, namely, that you cannot do the work you have done previously AND you cannot adjust to other work.

    Q: I have many accumulated sick days that I am eligible for receiving pay if I go out on disability. Will Social Security count this income against me and treat me as "working"?

    A: When evaluating earnings for substantial gainful activity purposes, Social Security will consider only earnings derived from actual work activity for the month under consideration. If an individual receives sick or vacation pay for non-work days in a particular month, that pay should not be considered countable income for that month. Social Security should count only the work activity you actually perform in the given month and the earnings that the individual would receive for that work activity.

    Q: I have a VA disability benefit of $2,819, disability retirement for Federal Service for $2,200 for the 1st year and then it drops to $1,400.  Can I still get SSDI?

    A: Yes, if you are otherwise eligible, that is, have earned enough quarters, recently enough, and, of course, are disabled according to Social Security’s rules

    Q: What advice do you give to people who quit working immediately upon diagnosis and then are not approved for SSDI?

    A: Having MS is not a disability, but of course, MS symptoms can be disabling.  Hopefully, you were denied because you do not have severe symptoms.  If you are unable to work due to MS-related symptoms, you can appeal or reapply.  Chances are that if you were denied despite severe symptoms, the documentation in support of your claim, especially your medical records, did not sufficiently convey your work restrictions.   Consider reapplying with an attorney and having a candid discussion with your physician regarding whether he or she believes your are capable of working. 

    Q: If you are not working but receiving group LTD benefits, are you still eligible for SSDI?

    A: Possibly.  The definition for disability is generally broader for LTD benefits than for SSDI benefits, at least for a period of time.  Many, perhaps most, LTD beneficiaries apply for SSDI benefits.  Your LTD carrier will likely reduce the amount it pays you by the amount you begin to receive through SSDI.  So in most cases, receiving SSDI benefits will not improve your short-term financial position.  However, there are other important reasons to apply for SSDI, including the opportunity to receive SSDI benefits

    Q: Because of lack of insurance, I am unable to go to the doctor to document many of my symptoms.  How will this cause be to be declined for benefits? 

    A: The best source of evidence for most SSDI applicants will generally come from their treating physicians.  Social Security will hire a physician or other expert to evaluate you if necessary, but this expert will not have the benefit of knowing your symptoms, especially the so-called invisible symptoms of fatigue, cognitive problems, pain, etc. One resource for you to consider may be a community health care clinic, which usually charges minimal amounts for visits.  Clinicians in these settings are often very helpful in this setting.

    Q: Does unearned income (ie, interest, dividends, capital gains) count or get recognized towards SSDI? 

    A: For purposes of SSDI, interest, capital gains, are not counted to determine substantial gainful activity.  Nor will they interfere with the receipt of benefits.  For SSI (welfare), of course, such money may render an applicant ineligible for benefits.

    Q: If you retire say at age 55 and do not file for disability until you are 61, does that mean you are not eligible for SSDI unless you can prove disability prior to that time?

    A: The best way to approach this is to call the Social Security Administration and ask for your date of last insurance (DLI).  To receive SSDI benefits, you need to prove you were disabled prior to your DLI. 

    Q: I was diagnosed with MS on November 1st, 1988. I was sent a letter indicating that if I was diagnosed at the age of 24, I would be able to recieve some of my father’s Social Secruity. However, I was diagnosed a month before my 24th birthday (December). Is it possible that I could still receive his benefits?

    A: The issue is not whether you were diagnosed prior to age 24, but whether you were disabled at that point.  You cannot claim to have been disabled if you were working.  It will be very hard to prove you were disabled prior to 24 (where would you find these medical records, e.g.?), but I imagine that there are some situations where that might be possible. 

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