Social Security column
By Karyl Richson
Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in
FASTER DISABILITY APPROVAL FOR PEOPLE WITH ALS
May is National ALS Awareness Month. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s
disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells and pathways in the brain and spinal cord. More
than 5,600 people each year are newly diagnosed with ALS. As many as 30,000 Americans may currently be affected by this
fatal condition. Social Security can help.
People who have ALS meet the medical qualifications for Social Security disability benefits. ALS is one of Social Security’s
“Compassionate Allowances.” The complete list of Compassionate Allowances conditions can be found at www.socialsecurity.
The Compassionate Allowances initiative identifies claims where the nature of the applicant’s disease or condition clearly
meets the statutory standard for disability. With the help of sophisticated new information technology, the agency can quickly
identify potential Compassionate Allowances and then quickly make decisions and begin monthly benefit payments.
Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue made the Compassionate Allowances initiative a top priority soon after he began
his tenure as Commissioner in 2007. Social Security launched the Compassionate Allowances program in 2008 with a list of
50 diseases and conditions. There are now more than 100 Compassionate Allowances conditions — and counting.
Commissioner Astrue’s dedication to Compassionate Allowances has earned him a humanitarian award and the attention of
"Commissioner Astrue has worked tirelessly to ensure that disabled Americans receive the Social Security disability benefits
they've earned in a timely way,” said President Obama.
We develop the list of Compassionate Allowances conditions from information received at public outreach hearings, comments
received from the disability community, counsel of medical and scientific experts, and research with the National Institutes of
Health (NIH). Also, we consider which conditions are most likely to meet our definition of disability.
For more information on the Compassionate Allowances initiative, please visit www.socialsecurity.
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SERVING WOUNDED WARRIORS AND THE SURVIVORS OF OUR FALLEN HEROES
It’s an American tradition to pay tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces each Memorial Day — especially honoring
those who have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country.
If you are a military service member who was wounded and needs to apply for disability benefits, it’s important to know that you
will receive expedited processing. Our wounded warriors initiative is for military service members who become disabled while
on active duty on or after October 1, 2001, regardless of where the disability occurs. Depending on the situation, some family
members of military personnel, including dependent children and, in some cases, spouses, may be able to receive benefits.
Learn more about it at www.socialsecurity.gov/woundedwarriors.
Did you know that May also is National Military Appreciation Month? Even more reason to let members of our military know how
much we value what they do for us and our nation.
To learn more about the Social Security benefits for those who have served in the military, read our publication, Military Service
and Social Security. You can find it online at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10017.html, or send us an email at OPI.Net.
Post@ssa.gov, or call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) to ask for a free copy to be mailed to you.
Memorial Day also is a good time to remind families of fallen military heroes that we may be able to pay Social Security
survivors benefits. If the person you depended on for income has died, you should apply for survivors benefits. Learn more
about Social Security survivors benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/pgm/survivors.htm.
The men and women of the Armed Forces serve us each and every day. At Social Security, we’re here to serve them too.
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WHY YOUNG WORKERS SHOULD CARE ABOUT SOCIAL SECURITY
Summer will be here before we know it. That means millions of high school and college students will be searching for jobs.
Whether a new worker is beginning the career of a lifetime or just earning some extra money for the school year to come, there
is one question that is likely to be on each new worker’s mind when they see their first pay stub: Where’s the rest of my money?
Generally, employers are required to withhold Social Security and Medicare tax from a worker’s paycheck. The amounts you pay
in Social Security and Medicare taxes are matched by your employer. Usually the money that is withheld is referred to as “Social
Security taxes” on the employee’s payroll statement. Sometimes the deduction is labeled as “FICA taxes,” which stands for
Federal Insurance Contributions Act. So let us tell you how that money is being used, and what’s in it for you.
The taxes paid now translate to a lifetime of protection, when you eventually retire or if you become disabled. In the event that
you die young, your dependent children and spouse may be able to receive survivors benefits based on your work. Today you
probably have family members — grandparents, for example — who already enjoy Social Security benefits that your Social
Security taxes help provide.
You may be a long way from retirement now, so you may find it hard to appreciate the value of benefits that could be 40 or 50
years away. But consider that your Social Security taxes could pay off sooner than you think. Social Security provides valuable
disability benefits — and studies show that a 20-year-old has about a three in 10 chance of becoming disabled sometime
before reaching retirement age.
Another bit of helpful advice for young workers: be wary if you’re offered a job “under the table” or “off the books.” If you work for
any employer who pays you only in cash, understand that you’re likely not getting Social Security credit for the work you’re doing.
Want to learn more about Social Security and what it means to young workers? If so, we invite you to enjoy a webcast: Social
Security 101: What’s In It For Me? The webcast will fill you in on the details you should know to get the most out of Social
Security. Check it out at www.socialsecurity.gov/webinars/social_security_101.html.
If you have questions about Social Security, the best place to go is online — to www.socialsecurity.gov.
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HELP MOM SAVE $4,000 A YEAR
Given the current economic climate, buying a nice gift for Mother’s Day may be more difficult than in years past. But people
across the nation are discovering that the best gifts are often free.
This Mother’s Day, you can show Mom how to save an estimated $4,000 a year on her Medicare prescription drug costs.
If your mother is covered by Medicare and has limited income and resources, she may be eligible for Extra Help — available
through Social Security — to pay part of her monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and prescription co-payments. The Extra
Help is estimated to be worth about $4,000 per year.
To figure out whether your mother is eligible, Social Security needs to know her income and the value of her savings,
investments and real estate (other than the home she lives in). To qualify for the extra help, she must be receiving Medicare and
• Income limited to $16,335 for an individual or $22,065 for a married couple living together. Even if her annual income is
higher, she still may be able to get some help with monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and prescription co-payments.
Some examples where income may be higher include if she and, if married, her husband:
—Support other family members who live with them;
—Have earnings from work; or
—Live in Alaska or Hawaii.
• Resources limited to $13,070 for an individual or $26,120 for a married couple living together. Resources include such
things as bank accounts, stocks, and bonds. We do not count her house or car as resources.
Social Security has an easy-to-use online application that you can help complete for your mom. You can find it at www.
socialsecurity.gov/prescriptionhelp. To apply by phone or have an application mailed to you, call Social Security at 1-800-772-
1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and ask for the Application for Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs (SSA-1020). Or go
to the nearest Social Security office.
To learn more about the Medicare prescription drug plans and special enrollment periods, visit www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-
MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227; TTY 1-877-486-2048).
Mom will be grateful when you give her a useful gift this year: help her save an estimated $4,000 a year on Medicare prescription
drugs. It won’t cost you anything more than a little bit of quality time with her — something you and Mom both want anyway.
These rules apply to Dad as well, so plan ahead for your Father’s Day gift too.
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MAY THE BENEFITS BE WITH YOU
May 4 is an unofficial holiday designated by fans as Star Wars Day. Why May 4 and not the more likely May 25 (the day the
original Star Wars was released)? It all comes down to a simple but catchy phrase: may the fourth be with you.
When celebrating Star Wars day, it can be easy to picture the space warriors in their original state, the way they have been
captured on film. But consider this: May is also Older Americans’ Month. That may be more fitting than you realize, since the
heroes of Star Wars first burst into pop culture “a long time ago.”
Most of the heroes and villains of Star Wars are now old enough to retire. Yes, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia,
are all old enough to get Social Security benefits. (Sorry, Chewbacca, but you have to be human to receive Social Security
You don’t have to have the wisdom of a Jedi or the knowledge of a Droid to figure out retirement benefits. If you’re planning
ahead for a distant retirement, visit the Retirement Estimator to get an instant, personalized estimate of your future retirement
benefits. Blast off to www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator
If you’re ready to apply now for retirement benefits, just go online. It’s so easy, and you can do it faster than the Millennium
Falcon can outrun Imperial fighters — in as little as 15 minutes at www.socialsecurity.gov/applyonline.
This year’s theme for Older Americans Month is “You’re never too old to play.” When Star Wars first came out in 1977, social
networking would have seemed like space-aged ways to play, but you now can connect with Social Security on Facebook,
Twitter, and YouTube. What’s more, you can even do it from your own smartphone … even if it’s not a Droid.
Visit www.socialsecurity.gov and target the “Facebook” and Twitter” icons.
This May 4, may the “fourth” be with you. And remember: the benefits will be with you … always.
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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Do Members of Congress have to pay into Social Security?
Yes, they do. Members of Congress, the President and Vice President, federal judges, and most political appointees, have paid
taxes into the Social Security program since January 1984. They pay into the system just like everyone else, no matter how long
they have been in office. Learn more about Social Security benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov.
How do I change my citizenship status on Social Security’s records?
To change the citizenship shown on our records:
• Complete and print a new Application For A Social Security Card (Form SS-5) at www.socialsecurity.gov/ssnumber/ss5.
• Show us documents proving your:
• New or revised citizenship status (Only certain documents can be accepted as proof of citizenship. These include your U.S.
passport, a Certificate of Naturalization, or a Certificate of Citizenship. If you are not a U.S. citizen, Social Security will ask to see
your current immigration documents);
• Age; and
• Take (or mail) your completed application and documents to your local Social Security office.
All documents must be either originals or copies certified by the issuing agency. We cannot accept photocopies or notarized
copies of documents. For more information, visit www.socialsecurity.gov.
How long does it take to complete the online application for Social Security retirement benefits?
It can take as little as 15 minutes to complete the online application. In most cases, once your application is submitted
electronically, you’re done. There are no forms to sign and usually no documentation to mail in. Social Security will process your
application and contact you if any further information is needed. There's no need to drive to a local Social Security office or wait
for an appointment with a Social Security representative. To retire online, go to www.socialsecurity.gov.
I have never worked, but my spouse has. What will my Social Security benefit be?
You can be entitled to as much as one-half of your spouse's benefit amount if you start your benefits when you reach full
retirement age. If you want to get Social Security retirement benefits before you reach full retirement age, the amount of your
benefit will be reduced. The amount of reduction depends on when you will reach full retirement age.
For example, if your full retirement age is 66, you can get 35 percent of your spouse's unreduced benefit at age 62. The amount
of your benefit increases at later ages up to the maximum of 50 percent if you retire at full retirement age. However, if you are
taking care of a child who is under age 16 or who gets Social Security disability benefits, you get full benefits, regardless of your
age. Learn more at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/yourspouse.htm.
SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME
My mother receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. She may have to enter a nursing home later this year. How
does this affect her SSI benefits?
Moving to a nursing home can affect your mother's SSI benefits, but it depends on the type of facility. In some cases, the SSI
payment may be reduced or stopped. Whenever your mother enters or leaves a nursing home, assisted living facility, hospital,
skilled nursing facility, or any other kind of institution, it is important that you tell Social Security. Call Social Security's toll-free
number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). We can answer specific questions from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through
Friday. We also provide information by automated phone service 24 hours a day.
What are the limits on what I can own to be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?
Social Security counts real estate, bank accounts, cash, stocks, and bonds toward the limits on what you can own. You may be
able to get SSI if your resources are worth no more than $2,000. A couple may be able to get SSI if they have resources worth no
more than $3,000. If you own property you are trying to sell, you may be able to get SSI while trying to sell it. Social Security does
not count everything you own in deciding whether you have too many resources to qualify for SSI. For example, we generally do
not count: the home you live in and the land it is on; life insurance policies with a face value of $1,500 or less; your car; burial
plots for you and immediate family; and up to $1,500 in burial funds for you and up to $1,500 in burial funds for your spouse.
Learn more about SSI at www.socialsecurity.gov/ssi.
I currently receive Social Security disability benefits. I now have a second serious disability. Can my monthly benefit amount be
No. Although your Social Security disability benefit eligibility is based on having a severe disability, the benefit amount is based
on the amount of your lifetime earnings before your disability began and not the number, degree, or severity of your disability.
For more information, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/dibplan/dapproval2.htm
Is there a time limit on how long I can collect Social Security disability benefits?
Your disability benefits will continue as long as your medical condition has not improved and you remain unable to work. Your
case will be reviewed at regular intervals to make sure you still are disabled. If you still are receiving disability benefits when you
reach full retirement age, we will automatically convert them to retirement benefits. See www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10153.
html#6 for more information on disability.
My mom is interested in getting help with her Medicare Part D prescription costs, but she has about $10,000 in the bank. Would
she still be eligible?
Based solely on the bank account balance you mention, yes. However, there are other factors to consider as well, including your
mom’s income. If your mother has other resources, they may be included too. This year a person’s total resources are, in most
cases, limited to $13,070 (or $26,120 if married and living with spouse) to qualify for Extra Help with Medicare prescription drug
costs. The resource limits shown on the application include a $1,500 per person exclusion for burial purposes. Resources
include the value of the things you own, such as real estate (other than the place you live), cash, bank accounts, stocks, bonds,
and retirement accounts like IRAs or 401ks. There are exceptions. Read more about how to qualify and apply for the Extra Help
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