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Savvy Senior: How to get Social Security benefits when you're disabled

Jim Miller explains the process of filing for disability.
By Jim Miller, For The Oklahoman Modified: August 31, 2014 at 7:53 pm •  Published: September 1, 2014
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Dear Savvy Senior: What do I need to do to get Social Security disability? I’m 57 years old and have some health issues that are keeping me from working, but I’ve heard it’s very difficult to get benefits.

— Need Assistance

Dear Need: The process of getting Social Security disability benefits can be tricky and time-consuming, but you can help yourself by doing your homework and getting prepared. Last year, around 3 million people applied for Social Security disability benefits, but two-thirds of them were denied, because most applicants fail to prove that they’re disabled and can’t work. Here are some steps you can take that will improve your odds.

Get Informed

The first thing you need to find out is if your health problem qualifies you for Social Security disability benefits.

You generally will be eligible only if you have a health problem that is expected to prevent you from working in your current line of work (or any other line of work that you have been in over the past 15 years) for at least a year, or result in death.

There is no such thing as a partial disability benefit.

If you’re fit enough to work part-time, your application will be denied.

You also need not apply if you still are working with the intention of quitting if your application is approved, because if you’re working your application will be denied.

Your skill set and age are factors too.

Your application will be denied if your work history suggests that you have the skills to perform a less physically demanding job that your disability does not prevent you from doing. To help you determine if you are disabled, go to ssa.gov/dibplan/dqualify5.htm and answer the five questions Social Security uses to determine disability.

How to apply

If you believe you have a claim, your next step is to gather up your personal, financial and medical information so you can be prepared and organized for the application process.

You can apply either online at ssa.gov/applyfordisability, or call (800) 772-1213 to make an appointment to apply at your local Social Security office or to set up an appointment for someone to take your claim over the phone.

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