THE SOCIAL SECURITY TRUST FUND IS GOING BROKE
The statistics are grim. Social Security is projected to be insolvent in
2026 and every time the government recalculates the insolvency date, it
grows closer. The other troubling fact is that more than 66% of American’s
rely on Social Security as their primary source of retirement income.
One third of all Americans report Social Security will provide more than
90% of their retirement income. Eliminating the program altogether would
be politically unpopular. So in order to keep the program afloat, the
government is going to have to make some tough choices. There are essentially
3 options available for infusing more cash into the system. Raise payroll
taxes, means test recipients so wealthier Americans collect less, or increase
the retirement age. They have begun raising payroll taxes and they already
means test by making Social Security benefits taxable for wealthier individuals.
Next is going to be a push to move the full retirement age to 70, with
early retirement moving to 65.
THEY KEEP MOVING THE GOAL POST.
For most of us, full retirement age for Social Security is between 66 and
67. If you don’t have a lot in savings, this means you will have
to work until 66 or 67 to begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits
without a penalty. Retire at a younger age and your monthly benefit will
be reduced. For some, moving the retirement age to 70 may mean the just
have to work a little longer. But for others, particularly those with
physically demanding jobs, working to age 70 just isn’t possible.
Physically demanding jobs like construction, energy production, agriculture
or nursing take a toll on the body over 20, 30 and 40 years. Now we will
be asking workers to keep producing for 50 years. What happens when they
can’t last that long?
DISABILITY PAYMENTS MAY BE THE ONLY ANSWER
If a person cannot work to full retirement age because of injury or illness,
the Social Security program offers a disability benefit. People assume
they can just apply for benefits and the problem is solved. This sounds
all well and good until you are faced with the harsh legal realities of
the programs requirements. For instance, in order to even be considered
for disability benefits you have to be out of work or earning below a
certain level, for a year or more. Most people cannot survive 1 month
without pay, much less a year without pay. Social Security also has strict
rules regarding eligibility, what medical conditions qualify, whether
you can adapt to alternative employment and the list goes on.
NO INCOME FOR 18 MONTHS?
If you apply for disability benefits and your claim is rejected, you will
be waiting, on average in central Florida, 18 months for a hearing in
front of a judge. But the point of this article is not to drive you into
arms of a lawyer, although using one is a good idea, but rather to give
you a few suggestions should you find yourself in the position of having to apply.
I’M GETTING SICK AND TIRED
Most people just don’t just find themselves healthy one day and sick
the next. Unless you have an accident, declining health is generally a
slow, gradual process. If your joints hurt worse every day, if your weight
keeps increasing, your blood pressuring keeps rising, then you know there
will come a time when you may have to find lighter work, reduce your hours
or just quit altoghther. If things get worse and you just can’t
continue, a disability claim may be your best financial option. So rather
than hoping the day never comes, be proactive. Understand all the mechanics
of a disability claim and plan for it.
START BY CREATING A PAPER TRAIL
We all avoid seeing the doctor. Sometimes it's avoiding bad news, for
other it's the cost involved. But when you stop to consider how long
you might be receiving disability benefits and the higher rate of pay,
cost should become a secondary concern. Fortunately, most people have
some form of medical insurance provided through their employer. If you
don't, you may want to talk with a local Social Security lawyer to
determine if insurance is necessary for your claim and if so, what options
are available. The Affordable Health Care Act might be one avenue, or
county insurance might be available. The point being, once you lose your
job, you may lose your medical insurance and along with it, your financial
ability to see a doctor.
When Social Security evaluates a claim for disability they rely heavily
on the applicant’s medical records. In particular, Social Security
is looking for medical records that describe how your condition affects
your ability to work in the years leading up to your stopping work. Those
kinds of medical records are best generated while you are still working.
When you see your doctor, tell the doctor about work activities you find
difficult. Whether it be lifting, carrying, walking or standing, a detailed
discussion about work activities that you find difficult really improves
the quality of your claim and equally important, it educates your doctor.
If it's the mental aspects of work you find difficult, then tell your
doctor about those issues. Has the work gotten too complicated? Do you
have trouble remembering things or keeping pace? Do you have a position
in customer service where being anxious or depressed just isn’t
an option? Do have a position that chains you to a desk and you need to
stand, walk, lay down, or raise your legs and you can’t. Do you
need a bathroom nearby? Did you miss time from work because of your medical
condition? Did you ask your employer for an accommodation? Did you file
Routinely having conversations with your doctor about the kind of work
you do and the problems you face, puts your doctor in a position where
he or she can respond to Social Security inquiries. Because when you apply
for disability, Social Security is required by law to contact your doctor
for input about your work related physical or mental restrictions
before they can order any consultive examinations. The more your doctor knows
about the kind of work you do and what problems you are having, the more
they are likely to respond.
Second, Social Security requires
objective medical evidence to support your claim. While you still have insurance,
make sure you have all the lab work and x-rays necessary to document your
condition as testing is often the most expensive component. Make sure
you are compliant with all of your doctor’s recommendations. Try
and lose the weight or stop smoking if your doctor tells you to. Take
your medication as prescribed. If you experience side effects, place your
concerns in the record. Try to document as best you can your efforts to
stay healthy and employed. While it may cost you a few extra dollars to
see the doctor a little more often, think of all the time and money it
may save you down the road when your application for disability is approved,
right off the bat, because of a well documented medical file.
If you find yourself declined for disability benefits, or have questions,
please give us a call. We will be happy to answer your questions. Our
main office is in Tampa, phone (813) 229-2667 or send us an email at
firstname.lastname@example.org. We will respond within 12 hours.