You Can Help Shape Our Disability Policy

November 2, 2015 • By

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Last Updated: November 2, 2015

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Social Security needs your help. We are asking for responses to an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on how we should modernize our vocational rules, which we first published in 1978. These are the rules our disability decision makers use to decide whether an adult with a severe disabling condition can do any job in the national economy.

The Social Security Act sets out a strict definition of disability. Our agency pays benefits to eligible people who can’t work because of a disabling mental or physical condition expected to last at least one year or result in death. This medical condition must prevent the person from doing not only their previous work, but any other substantial work.

On Friday, November 20 in Washington DC, Social Security will host a National Disability Forum. The meeting will focus on the realities of employment for individuals with severe disabling conditions, especially for those who are older, have low skills, or low education levels. The purpose is to gather insight on circumstances such as age, education, and work experience, helping us understand the effect these may have on an individual’s ability to work and to adjust to other work. The National Disability Forum looks to consider how these vocational factors can and should inform our evaluation of an applicant’s ability to work consistent with the Social Security Act’s definition of disability.

Paul N. Van de Water will moderate a panel of experts from varying perspectives on these topics. Following the panel presentation, we encourage comments and discussion from all attendees. Your involvement is of the utmost importance in helping us further enhance our disability determination process.

Comments presented during the forum, panel, and open discussion period will be included in the public record for the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule-making, which is available in the Federal Register. To review and provide written comments, go to www.regulations.gov and enter SSA-2014-0081-0001 in the search box. Comments will be accepted until December 14.

If you plan to attend the forum, either in person or by phone, please register by Monday, November 16, 2015. For more information about the National Disability Forum series, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/ndf.

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About the Author

Gina Clemons, Associate Commissioner, Office of Disability Policy

Gina Clemons, Associate Commissioner, Office of Disability Policy


  1. Mary f.

    I know that they are those who are milking the system, but are lots of honest people who wish they could get out and work at a regular job, and make 2 to 3 times what they draw from as I,. I have a 26 yr old granddaughter who has been on SSI for 5 years. Her parents struggle from the time she eight up 21, trying to get her a good education, not knowing she could have been on SSI since she was 8, when diagnosis with a mental disability. She probably could have got more help on education, medical, and training to cope with her disability. I am sure her family is not the only ones to suffer for years, because not anyone informed her family they could get help through SSI. So I wonder why are the benefits withheld from people like my granddaughter, and not mention to parents when some are constantly at doctor offices, or tested at school and no one ever told her parents she could have health insurance, special training to teach her how to live a close to normal life. I guess because she was never consider a minority.

    • Louise

      Being a minority has nothing to do with your family not receiving the needed services, it has to do with not asking what services are availabe and doing the research to assist your family member. Why does everyone blame the minorites for their ignorance?

    • Tom M.

      The doctor[s] who treated her, the school counselor[s] and/or teachers should have told you. But mostly they don’t know.
      My sister was a teacher, and she used to call me if she had a disabled student who she thought might benefit from extra services, especially as they began mainstreaming former special education students.

    • Ionut

      Hi Leslie!Sorry It’s so late getting back to you .I’ve been quite busy lleaty .but in a good way! We used a combination of things ..one being Aloe vera juice. The other was a drug prescribed by my son’s doctor, and I don’t have it with me but can get the name of it for you. Take care! Thanks for reading!!

  2. Roseanna w.

    It’s me again I forgot to tell you that one time I had to send all my son pay Stubs to you guys on how much he made and I was telling the truth about my son I guess you guys thought I was lying And then they said if they dident get those pay Stubs that he would lose His security disability So I sent all of his pay Stubs over 5 years of them they got me so sick and upset but you
    Guys do you really care ? Thanks Roseanna Weston

  3. K W.

    People with severe mental or physical disabilities should be the only recipients of disability insurance benefits. Too many who are able to work in some capacity but are still receiving benefits are decreasing the funds for those who truly need and deserve it.
    It appears that disability insurance is being used to extend unemployment benefits for many individuals. It might be helpful to cross reference unemployment benefits recipients to disability insurance benefits recipients. It is far too easy to move from one to the other.
    I would like to see my tax dollars spent responsibly and with intent. I work hard for the income that I get to bring home and for the money the government spends. It’s not play money, it’s taxpayer’s money.

    • Mekal F.

      Many of the disabled PAID into the system to provide coverage if they got sick or injured to where they could not work. For you to denigrate what others have paid for is inappropriate.

    • Alex E.

      Unemployment benefits are cross referenced with social security benefits. The receipt of unemployment benefits required you to state you are ready, willing, and able to work. Disability means you aren’t able to work. In the claims process your unemployment claim history is considered.

  4. David

    Want to know once you are approved for disability why do you have to wait 5 month before you receive any money I feel it should start when you are approved thanks

    • Ray F.

      Thanks for your question David. Current law requires everybody that is approved for disability benefits under the Social Security Disability Insurance or SSDI program to serve a 5 month waiting period. The waiting period ensures that we pay benefits only to persons with long-term disabilities and avoid duplicating other income protection plans (such as employer sick-pay plans) during the early months of disability. Remember that Social Security disability benefits are paid to individuals who cannot work because of a disability that is expected to last at least one year or result in death.
      The first Social Security disability benefits will be paid for the sixth full month after the date the disability began. Here is an example: If the state agency decides your disability began on January 15, your first disability benefit will be paid for the month of July. Social Security benefits are paid in the month following the month for which they are due, so you’ll receive your July benefit in August.

  5. Ken W.

    I have worked as a Service Coordinator and Social Worker with elderly and handicapped people for over 20 years. often I have seen disabled people want to get out and get a job on the side, often part time.

    But what holds them back is that if they make any money on their own, they can be penalized by loosing their Social Security Disability, their Medicaid, so they loose the enthusiasm, the idea of working fades, and they go back to depending on the government for their income.
    I know these people can work, often they have volunteered to help (no pay involved) at activities at the Housing Complexes (for low income Senior Citizens, and handicapped people) I have worked at.
    Maybe they can’t work a 40 hour work week, but they could work 15 or 20 hours a week – but that is just enough to screw them up in getting help from the government that they count on to live.

    A second thought is that people get better. People get Social Security Disability income when they come down with an illness or injury that stops them from working. But people can get better, their health can improve, and they could work some. Again, maybe not full time, but 20 or 30 hours a week is possible. Plus maybe they were working on their feet earlier, but they could sit and work, or work with a telephone, and keyboard taking applications. But if they loose benefits dollar for dollar, or loose health care, then they will not admit to improvement in many cases.

    Somehow they should be able to keep some benefits, esp. health care, but give away part of their government benefits if they work.

    I believe people should do some work, you get pride when you work to get what you need. But to expect them to give up benefits dollar for dollar is to ignore human nature. So many people are disabled in the last few years as jobs have gotten fewer – allowing them to do limited work would go a long way to increasing the payroll, and cutting back on what the government has to pay out.

    PS. I am 68 and still working full time. But I work with elderly, so there is no age discrimination, I am one of them.

    • C.W.

      Many people on SSDI have disabilities that limit them from doing the easiest of jobs. They want to, but when they do their suffering intensifies and creates embarrassment and humiliation. Disability is also cognitive problems which causes a person many problems then the stress increases and this enhances all the other inherited ailments to start hurting, including seizures.
      You who are over 60 and still working, consider yourself blessed because there are many who enjoyed working, but now they can not without creating a domino effect of numerous health issues.

      • ellen


      • Tom M.

        Forgot to add that ex-service persons may also qualify for additional VA benefits upon retirement. I had one man who was a successful professional. T-boned in an auto accident by a red light runner. He was treated by insurance, but then put on SSD as he was unable to work, because he was subject to severe temper outbursts. (Sounds like some of them on here.) But he recently turned 63 and VA offered him an additional $500 which now means he has a decent retirement income.

    • Tom M.

      You need to learn. People on SSI get a pass on the first $85 they earn each month, then they loose $1 for every $2 earned. They need to report their earnings each month to Social Security. But that means they can in many states work full time at minimum wage and still receive a few dollars from SSI and importantly still qualify for Medicaid. This is something that the ACA was meant to solve as now you are eligible for Medicaid for up to 125% of poverty level. And above that, at least in Michigan, the ACA is very cheap, only a very few dollars per month.
      Those on SSD can earn up to $1090 (this year, raised each year) per month before they loose SSD. But it all or nothing. I usually advise them to go for about $1000 per month or less because some months have more working days than others. August and October are the riskiest as there are no holidays and have 31 days which means up to 23 working days. They can also through the state Vocational Rehabilitation Department, Division or Service, can write a plan to return to work. This exempts them from the 3 year review of benefits and disability. They can also qualify for up to 9 months of unlimited earnings before loosing SSD. The months do not need to be sequential (any low month may not count toward that 9 months total) but that is a once in a life time offer. 9 months total in a lifetime.
      Incidentally persons who retire at 62 and who continue to work, will have their retirement benefits reduced 1 for 2 earned over $1100/month. That is reduced later for 1 for 3 and even later 1 for 4 earned until he reach full retirement at 66. If they wait for 66 they will get about 1/3 more per month, and even more if they wait until they are 70 to retire.

    • Ray F.

      Thank you Ken for your work and service with the disabled and the elderly. Social Security has Work Incentives for people on disability who want to work. See our publication: Working While Disabled – How We Can Help for more information. We know you will share this information and continue to help, Thanks again!

    • Hail E.

      That is a good tip especially to those new to the blogosphere. Simple but very precise information… Thank you for sharing this one. A must read post!


  6. den

    The Doctors and Lawyers who are getting the unqualified people on the Disability programs have to be held accountable. When a doctor certifies that a person is disabled, make them also draft a plan that will get the person back to work. Require two doctors to certify the person is disabled and then require both of them to draft the back to work plan. This will make the docs accountable for their approvals. Instead of rubber stamping the request, they would have to think about the additional work involved. The money needs to be reduced for the lawyers. Why is the TV channels filled with lawyers trying to get people to call them so they can get disability payments. There is too much fraud in the current system. The original goal of the program, to help the truly disabled, was a good one. We need to protect this program for the truly disabled. The only way to do this is to do something about the fraud in the program.

    • R.B.

      I agree with den on this. I don’t believe that the ballooning in the number of people receiving disability benefits is due to an increase in the number of disabled workers. I doubt that any private disability insurance program would hand out money so freely that it would cause a mini-industry of disability lawyers advertising on billboards or TV for clients. But like most government programs the administrators don’t remember that you’re taking money away that someone earned and you’re giving it to someone who didn’t earn it. If you can justify doing that then at least have the integrity to administer the program so that it isn’t a giveaway that encourages workers to drop out of the workforce.

    • Mekal F.

      Another excuse for doctors to “milk the system” and shortchange the disabled. As if doctors aren’t being paid enough already, and the disabled aren’t being ripped off by everyone trying to help themselves to the Social Security fund leaving the disabled with inadequate funds to provide the bare minimum.

    • Sandra M.

      You have to remember there has to be employers who will employ you. Many employers will not employ people with disabilities. Just try to make an ADA case about it. Spend your own money to make someone employ you because you want to work. Geez. Most of you speak only from opinion. Not knowledge. Go out and find out what is going on at your state job sites. Talk to people who work with the disabled to get them jobs. They can’t get them jobs and the jobs they get make less then SSI at times. Honestly, and no benefits. Get educated.

  7. JETHRO P.


    • isftt

      You can earn $1090 a month in addition to your SSDI.

      • Tom M.

        It is exactly this kind of mis-information that causes people to believe they will loose what little they have if they try. Instead he needs to talk to a real savvy vocational counselor who will set him straight. In almost every case he can work part time and begin to get back into the world of work, or get in for the first time, which will be better mentally, physically, and vocationally.

      • Ray F.

        Social Security strongly supports those individuals who want to return to the work force and feel productive while supplementing their disability benefit income. We have Work Incentives that allow people to work and still receive their benefits. See our publication: Working While Disabled – How We Can Help for more information.

  8. Roseanna w.

    My son is on Social security disability he works part time he Is neurologically impaired Suffers from seizures I got a letter last week I had to do. So I went to The Social Security office For help and the lady was upset because I came in for help my son needs his Social Security You guys make me feel so up set because you make it sound like I’m lying But I’m not he works a little and that’s it some times he gets sick and he can’t. I now you guys can change The stuff for the better thank you Roseanna weston

  9. John O.

    If anything should be done it should be to tighten up the requirements to get disability to save the trust fund for the truly disabled. Disability reviews should be mandated every three years for those under 50. Work incentive periods need to be shortened. As it now stands disability is used as a political tool to mask and hide the fact that we are in the worst job recovery period in history.

    • Beth

      Unless there are two people named John OMalia commenting here, you seem to be contradicting yourself. At 10:39 am you wrote: “tighten up the requirements to get disability to save the trust fund for the truly disabled” and at 10:44 am you wrote: “SSI is not under the social security system and has nothing to do with the trust funds.”

    • Alex E.

      On average continuing disability reviews occur every 1.5 years. Rarely will someone be declared permanently disabled, usually from permanent paralysis, birth defect, etc.

  10. Roger S.

    I believe that social security was set up for working people to have the ability to retire even if the places they worked at did not have a retirement fund. S.S. I.
    should not be under the social security system. The
    Feds should fund the states for that. The states could keep a better check on the costs than the Fed can.

    • John O.

      SSI is not under the social security system and has nothing to do with the trust funds. Payment for the SSI program comes from general fund taxes. SS only administers the federal portion of it, Many States still supplement SSI payments. Prior to 1974 the States controlled the entire program and each State had their own disability rules. Federalizing the program brought about uniformity.

    • Mekal F.

      The states programs for the disabled like California’s EDD SDI program are disastrously mismanaged, a political train wreck to provide jobs for political patronage. The last thing we need to do is let the states manage the program.

    • Sandra M.

      Our state just had some administrators who misappropriated funds for the Community mental health program. These people literally got moved up to higher jobs in the state government while the people who received community mental health services were supposed to sign their person centered plans to receive fewer services. The U.S government sent a letter stating that this was not acceptable cutting funding but they are getting around it by having mentally impaired people sign their supports away. Way to go Local State Government.

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