As a Social Security disability attorney, I am often asked by potential clients whether they can be awarded “partial disability.” The short answer to this is “no” when it comes to Social Security disability cases. Worker’s Compensation, Veterans Disability, and private disability policies through insurance companies often do offer partial disability, but Social Security does not. For instance, Worker’s Compensation and the VA can award individual’s percentages of disability ranging from 10% disabled to 100% disabled. Private disability insurance policies often award payments when an individual’s health prevents them from doing their present job. For Social Security disability, however, a claimant generally must be found unable to perform any gainful employment in order to be entitled to benefits.
Despite the foregoing, there are two types of cases which might be considered under the phrase “partial disability” as it relates to Social Security. While these cases pay the full amount of a disability client’s monthly benefit (because there are no partial payments in Social Security) the medical rules for disability are more inclusive.
The first type of case is called a closed period of disability. In order to receive Social Security disability or SSI, an individual’s health must prevent or be expected to prevent them from working a gainful job for at least one year. Sometimes, disability clients receive various forms of medication, therapy, or surgeries which eventually allows them to return to work. In these cases, an individual can still receive disability payments for the time frame that they were out of work. This can even be the case if you return to work shortly after you apply for benefits. Disability Insurance Benefits (not SSI) is payable up to one year before you file an application for Social Security. Therefore, if you were off of work for health reasons for the year prior to your application, you can still apply for benefits and potentially receive an award for the period of time that you were off. The bottom line is that you do not have to be disabled for life in order to receive disability payments. Social Security is meant to help individuals for the time frame that they are out of work with health problems. However, as noted above and unlike short-term disability policies, claimant’s need to be disabled/unable to work for at least one year to get benefits under the Social Security Act.
The second case which may be considered “partial disability” involves the GRID Regulations. While full benefits are payable in these types of cases, an individual does not need to prove that they are incapable of all work. Instead, under the GRID Regulations, as an individual ages, it becomes easier and easier to be considered disabled. Generally speaking, age 50 is a landmark age in Social Security Disability law. Once an individual turns 50, they can be considered disabled even if they can perform sedentary work (standing less than two hours per day and lifting under 10 lbs) so long as they are unable to perform their past relevant work (work done in the last 15 years) and they have not acquired skills that readily transfer to other sedentary jobs. The law changes again under the GRID Regulations once an individual turns 55. At this age, an individual can be considered disabled even if they are able to do light level work (standing 6 hours per day but lifting no more than 20 lbs) so long as they are unable to perform their past relevant work and have acquired no skills that readily transfer to other light level jobs. Please note that while an individual over age 50 or over age 55 can be considered disabled even if Social Security believes that they can physically perform sedentary or light work, that individual typically cannot actually be working over the monetary limits (substantial gainful activity) and still be successful on their claim. For 2018 substantial gainful activity involves earning over $1,180 per month.
As you can see, Social Security Disability does not necessarily have partial disability because under their rules you either are entitled to your full monthly benefit or you are entitled to nothing. Nonetheless, the onerous standard for what makes someone medically disabled relaxes after age 50 and it is lessened again after age 55. In addition, Social Security does offer a form of short-term disability in the form of a closed period of disability. However, in order to succeed in such cases, disability claimants still have to be unable to work at gainful levels for at least one full year.
If you are over age 50 and believe that your health prevents you from performing your past work, you may wish to apply for Social Security benefits. Likewise, if your health has prevented you from working for at least one year, but you are on the verge of being able to return to work, you may still wish to file a claim for benefits. If you already have a claim pending and you have returned to work, you should not give up with your appeals as it is possible that you could still receive a closed period of disability provided that you were off of work for over a year.
The disability attorneys at Smith Godios Sorensen Inc. have represented many individuals seeking Social Security benefits after age 50 or seeking closed periods of disability. If you would like a free phone consultation, please call us at the number on our website.