Robert D. Paulbeck, Attorney at Law
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Over 50 and disabled? You may qualify for benefits

When Sarah was young she was a dynamo--she worked three jobs, put herself through college and still had energy to spare. Even once she had kids, her energy was a force as she ran around with her children, coaching and organizing PTA fundraisers.

Sarah was greatly admired in her community and was counted on to take up the slack when others were not available. Working as an accountant, she had great flexibility and her employer valued her positive attitude and work ethic.

But when Sarah was 43, she was in a severe accident and lost a great deal of mobility in her legs due to nerve damage. Her feet now tingled and were numb, and even with physical therapy, her walking was encumbered. This was very difficult emotionally for Sarah since she had always been active.

One tragedy after another

At 50, Sarah's sister was killed in a car accident. The loss was devastating to Sarah and it also brought up all the sadness and anxiety of her own car accident years earlier. Almost imperceptibly, Sarah started to withdraw.

Before her family’s eyes, over a year or so, Sarah went from vivacious and outgoing, to withdrawn and desperate. Where before she was always well-groomed and attentive, now she often stayed in bed for days at a time, and she rarely bother to bathe or clothe herself.

When she no longer cared about whether she made it to work each day, her family insisted she see a doctor.

After a thorough exam, her doctor diagnosed her with clinical depression and acute anxiety disorder. She was advised to have bi-weekly therapy. Knowing she could no longer work, Sarah quit her job.

When her doctor encouraged her to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (SSDI), Sarah wondered how she could possibly qualify. Weren’t the rules extremely stringent?

Qualifying for SSDI

While it may be very difficult to be approved for SSDI, it is not possible, and generally can be done if you work with someone who knows how to present your case in a way that meets the criteria. Many people are not aware that SSDI determinations must be based on laws and rules that are codified in the federal code.

Thus, in many regards, your application must read much like a legal brief would--outlining your symptoms and liabilities in such a way that a worker can simply follow the guidelines and check off qualifying diagnoses and descriptions that fit the law.

One bright spot for Sarah is that she is over 50. After the age of 50, it becomes easier to qualify for disability. Before the age of 50, in order to be approved, the Social Security Administration must find that you want are unable to do any kind of work.

SSDI over 50

After the age of 50, there are criteria that make it more likely to be approved. For example, while Sarah may be able to do sedentary work, her prior job was as a skilled professional and she can no longer function as an accountant. SSA would then look at whether she had transferable skills from any job she had performed in the last 15 years.

Since Sarah has no transferable skills from any job--for more than 20 years she has worked as an accountant--under the special rules for people over 50, Sarah would likely qualify for disability benefits, even though she is able to do some work.

Knowing your options, and knowing who can help you, is essential when you were applying for disability. If you are hoping to qualify, seek out someone who has expertise in this area before applying. Working with someone who has the requisite knowledge can be the difference between being approved and being denied.

 

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