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Social Security benefits for the blind (or those losing their sight)

Posted by Andrew Chan  May 7, 2009 03:00 PM

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I am 74 years old, married and losing my eye sight. Can I get Social Security disability benefits?

If you are unable to work because you are blind or have low vision you may be entitled to certain Social Security benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides benefits under two of their programs: the Social Security Disability Insurance program and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. These benefits apply to those who are legally blind as well as those who have low vision (but are not consider legally blind). The SSA defines “legally blind” as vision that cannot be corrected to better than 20/200 in your better eye, or if your visual field is 20 degrees or less in your better eye. If you are not considered legally blind by the SSA’s definition you may still qualify for certain benefits.

You should contact the SSA to determine if you are eligible for benefits under either of these programs. They will need to review your particular circumstance to determine how much if any benefits are available to you. I have included contact information for the SSA’s Braille Services Team at the end of this blog entry.

Here is a brief description of how each of the above mentioned programs work.

Social Security Disability Insurance
Benefits under this program are based on your work history and past earnings. Similar to social security retirement benefits, you earn credits by working at a job where you are required to pay Social Security taxes. The number of credits you need to qualify for disability benefits depends on when you become blind. If you are legally blind you can earn credits anytime during your work history. If you do not have enough credits to qualify for disability benefits before you become blind, you can use credits for work after you become blind. In addition, if you do not have enough credits based on your earnings, you may be able to qualify for disability benefits based on your parent’s or spouse’s earnings.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Unlike Social Security Disability benefits, SSI benefits are determined based on your income, financial resources and assets. You do not need to have a work history to qualify for these benefits. These benefits are based on need. To qualify, you must be at least 65 years old, disabled or blind and your income and financial resources need to be below certain limits. The income and resource limits vary by state. In Massachusetts, the limit (not including your home) for individuals is $2,000 dollars. For married couples the limit is $3,000.

For more information about the SSA’s Disability Insurance program and SSI program, visit the SSA at:
http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10052.pdf

If you are blind or have low vision, the SSA has a Braille Services Team that can assist you with your requests for more information. They can be reached at the following:

Social Security Administration
Braille Services Team
6401 Security Boulevard
L1141 West Low Rise Building
Baltimore, MD 21235

Phone numbers: (410) 965-6414 or (410) 965-6407
Fax number: (410) 965-6413

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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D. Abraham Ringer is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER practitioner and a Financial Adviser with Morgan Stanley Global Wealth Management in Boston. He is registered in MA, NH, NY and several other states to which his articles are directed. For more information please visit www.morganstanleyfa.com/ringer
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