If you're too sick or disabled to work, you may be able to retire early. Social Security allows you to collect benefits before you retire, but the requirements are strict. You must be unable to work at your current job and unable to handle a different job, and this condition must last at least a year. There's no benefit for partial disability. If you belong to a government or private employee retirement plan, the rules may be different, but they all require you to prove disability.
Put in the Hours
Like regular Social Security benefits, your disability benefits are based on your earnings. You usually need 40 Social Security credits, 20 of them earned in the last 10 years. You earn up to four credits a year, based on your wages. In 2014, for instance, $4,800 earned you four credits, though other years use other dollar figures. Government employees also have time limits on earning disability benefits. Federal disability retirement, for instance, requires a year and a half of work. California and Nevada both require five years.
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Get a Diagnosis
A doctor's diagnosis is essential to qualify for medical retirement. The doctor has to identify your disability and the limits it sets on your ability to work. Social Security considers some conditions, such as chronic hepatitis, automatically disabling. To prove these conditions, you'll need detailed medical evidence including imaging studies and lab tests. For non-automatic disabilities, Social Security will compare what the doctor says your limits are to the work requirements for your current job and alternative jobs.
Submit Your Application
A medical report is only part of the paperwork to fill out. Social Security, for instance, also requires details of any prescription drugs you're on, a summary of your job duties and how your disability affects them, and medical release forms for when the agency needs added information. The forms are available from the Social Security Administration website. The agency's disability specialists will grill the doctors for more detail on how your disability affects your work options.
Be Prepared to Fight
Whatever agency you're applying to for benefits may turn you down. Social Security refuses many cases, often on the basis that the applicant can still work at other jobs. If you believe the refusal was wrong, you can appeal. At the Social Security Administration, the appeal levels are an informal review; an administrative hearing; an appeal to a national appeals council; and, if you're really determined, a lawsuit. Other agencies and government bodies have their own procedures. It will take time and you won't see a penny until it's over.
- Social Security Administration: Disability Benefits
- CalPERS: Disability & Industrial Disability Retirement Overview
- Social Security Administration: How Much Work Do You Need?
- Office of Personnel Management: FERS Information: Disability
- Nevada Public Employees Retirement System: Disability Retirement Guide
- Social Security Administration: Disability Evaluation Under Social Security -- Digestive System
- Nolo: Social Security: How to Appeal Denied Claims
- Disability Secrets: Social Security Denials and Appeals