Workers of any age can qualify for disability benefits provided they have accumulated the required work history. It is easier for people above the age of 60 to get disability benefits, as we will discuss in a while. To be eligible for disability benefits, claimants have to demonstrate that they are unable to work for at least a year on account of a condition that the SSA (Social Security Administration) considers a disability. The eligibility determination is done on the basis of a detailed medical record review. The SSA would evaluate the applicant’s ability to earn money from other employment, the severity of the disability, and the specific medical conditions that cause it. They would also consider whether the applicant would be able to perform different but related jobs. As providers of medical review service for social security disability lawyers, we understand that many applicants have a misunderstanding that since no job in a particular profession is available to them, they are incapable of doing that work. However, their capability can be the deciding factor for the approval or rejection of their disability benefits. It is the applicant’s responsibility with effective legal support to establish that he/she is unable to work in a particular alternative occupation because of his/her disability. Once the disability benefits are granted, they will usually continue until the claimant is able to work again on a regular basis, with incentives provided to encourage a smooth transition back to the workplace.
It is easier for people above the age of 60 to win their disability claim. This is because for older workers especially those ages 60 and above, the SSA must consult “grids” or a series of tables to determine disability. The grids are a set of rules that take into account a claimant’s age, RFC or residual functional capacity, education, and work history to decide whether the benefits should be granted or denied. The SSA would consider the fact that older workers may find it more difficult to learn new skills and fit into new workplaces. However, if the applicant worked at a skilled job before becoming disabled and can put his/her skills to use at a less demanding type of job, he/she will not be approved for disability benefits just because they are older people.
Though it is easier for older people to get disability benefits, some people prefer to apply for early retirement at age 62 or 63. This may be due to the following reasons.
- The disability process can be long drawn out and complicated
- Receiving disability benefits could carry a stigma
Whatever the reason may be, it is important to understand that applying for retirement could reduce the amount of benefits the applicant is actually entitled to. One can claim disability up to age 66, which is the full retirement age now.
Here are some pointers as to why SSDI is a more beneficial option:
- If an applicant takes early retirement at the age of 62, his/her retirement benefit amount will be permanently reduced. The reduced benefit amount depends on the number of months he/she has until full retirement age.
- On the other hand, if the applicant is awarded SSDI or Social Security Disability Insurance, the benefit amount will be equal to what he/she was entitled to receive once they reached their full retirement age. This is because SSDI and retirement benefits are based on the amount in taxes the applicant has paid to the SSA. When a person reaches full retirement age, their benefits just convert into retirement benefits, and the payment amount does not change. His/her future retirement benefits are not reduced even though they were able to collect social security benefits early.
- When an applicant opts for disability benefits, they also receive the benefit of a “disability freeze.” When calculating the monthly benefits, the disability freeze disregards any low earning or zero earning years for the period that the person’s disability prevented him/her from working.
It is important that people are aware of the significance of disability benefits because according to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 37 million Americans, i.e. about 12% of the total population are classified as disabled. The Council for Disability Awareness found that 64% of workers believe that there is only a 2% or even less chance that they will be disabled for three months or more during their careers. However, this is not true. The chances of a 20-year-old worker becoming disabled before retirement are estimated to be one in four or 25%. Social security disability benefits are much more important for people who suffer an injury or illness that prevents them from working for a long term. In fact, those benefits could be their only source of dependable income that will enable them to meet their day-to-day needs.