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 FMLA paperwork?
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.