Ins and Outs of Disability Benefits for Blindness
There are over one million people who are blind in the United States, and three times that many people with some form of visual impairment. As the population continues to age, these numbers are projected to increase over the next few decades. Blindness and vision impairment are some of the top disabilities among adults over the age of 18 years old. Diabetes and other chronic diseases further contribute to an increasing population of people with vision loss.
Severe visual impairment like blindness impacts many aspects of daily living and could be detrimental to gainful employment because it impairs the ability to read, drive, or perform other daily functions. Blindness can result in isolation, anxiety, and dependency. The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides benefits to qualifying individuals with visual impairment, blindness, and other related diseases. These benefits can help with financial and other life challenges.
Eligibility for the SSDI benefits of Blindness
There are strict eligibility criteria to establish entitlement to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits due to blindness. An incomplete or incorrectly completed application can result in a denial of benefits. The application must be submitted accurately, timely, and with appropriate supporting documentation to prove entitlement and maximize the amount of disability compensation.
Blindness for the purpose of entitlement to SSDI means:
- Loss of visual efficiency –you have a central visual acuity for distance of 20/200 or less in your better eye with use of a corrective lenses; or
- Loss of peripheral vision –you have a visual field limitation in your better eye, such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees
Be cautious about Qualifiers
It is important to understand qualifying language such as “Your Better Eye” and “After Best Correction.” Your better eye is self-explanatory, referring to your better functioning eye. After best correction refers to the optimal visual acuity that is attainable using a corrective lens.
To qualify for SSDI benefits, you must be blind in both eyes. If one eye retains better than 20/200 vision, you may not be eligible for benefits under SSA rules. Similarly, eligibility for SSDI benefits will be impacted if you have vision that can be corrected using glasses or contact lenses.
If you do not meet the legal requirements for blindness for the purpose of entitlement to Social Security benefits, you may still qualify for benefits if visual impairment is severe enough to prevent you from working. If your visual capacity has been so impaired such that you are unable to effectively read documents or a computer monitor, or otherwise perform gainful activity, you may qualify for the benefits under a SSA medical-vocational allowance.
SSI vs. SSDI Qualifications and Benefits
The SSA administers benefits to people who are blind or visually impaired under the SSDI program and the Supplemental Security Income program (SSI). You may be eligible for both programs in limited circumstances, referred to as “concurrent” benefits.” The rules for concurrent benefits can be complicated. The SSDI and SSI programs share many concepts, but also have very distinguishing features. It is important to understand these differences to ensure that you are receiving the best benefits you are entitled to give your particular situation.
Supplemental Security Income that is SSI – SSI provides monthly income to those who have a demonstrated financial need. The rules defining financial need can be complicated. Entitlement to SSI is based on meeting one of the following criteria: you must be age 65 or older, be totally or partially blind, or have a medical condition that keeps you from working and is expected to last at least one year or result in death. The SSA provides the same monthly payment nationwide, but not everyone will receive the same amount. Marital status is one determining factor and some states add additional money to the federal SSI payment.
Social Security Disability Insurance that is SSDI – SSDI are benefits paid to people with a qualifying work history who have a medical condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death. Certain family members may also be eligible for benefits. Eligibility requirements are complex, but in general two earnings tests must be met to establish entitlement to SSDI: first, a recent work test, based on age at the time you became disabled, and second, a duration of work test that demonstrates a qualifying history of work under SSA rules. Some blind workers may not need to meet the duration of work test.
Work Incentives– After you have been determined by SSA as eligible to receive benefits, you may wish to work again. There are work incentive programs available that allow you to test your ability to work while still in receipt of benefits. The SSA can also assist with education, vocational rehabilitation, and other workforce training. The important thing is to know what information must be reported to the SSA in order to avoid any undesired stoppage of benefits.
For more information and reliable legal assistance for your claim for SSDI or SSI, entrust a qualified and experienced social security disability attorney to help.