Living with the visual impairment or complete blindness makes the person unable to work, which poses a financial burden in the form of lack of income and medical insurances. The social security administration (SSA) offers social security disability benefits to such individuals. The SSA offers disability benefits through two different programs. The first program is the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) which relies on and the patient’s work history. To claim this insurance the applicant must have earned a specific amount of work credit. The second program is the Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This program is not based on work credits and instead mandates the requirement of a certain financial status in order for the applicant to qualify. The program is best suited for children and other individuals who might not have earned enough work credits.
The Social Security Administration has a track record of denying many disability applications for a wide range of physical disabilities. This is often discouraging for the prospective applicant but when it comes to visual impairment, the approval rate is very high – almost 100%. For the Social Security Administration to consider a visually impaired person’s case, the applicant must meet the requirements set forth by Social Security. Usually the social security administration evaluates the vision in an applicant’s better eye to assess the extent of their visual disability. These requirements are a corrected visual acuity of 20/200 or worse and/or a field of vision diminished to 10% or less. Basically, for them to determine a person eligible for benefits, the applicant must first meet the criteria for being legally blind.
Criteria for Visually Impaired and Legally Blind
Majority of the people who claim for the social security benefit for the vision are not completely blind, instead they have a low vision and are visually impaired. Visual impairment is an uncorrectable vision loss which interferes with the usual daily activities and is a condition caused by any eye disease where the visual acuity is 20/70 or poorer in the better seeing eye. Visual acuity is a numerical value which indicates the clarity of vision. The visual acuity of 20/70 means that the patient is at a distance of 20 feet from an eye chart and sees what a normal person with an unimpaired vision can correctly see from 70 feet away.
The definition of legal blindness is used to determine the eligibility for vocational training, rehabilitation, schooling, to claim disability benefits, and tax exemption programs. Earlier the definition of legal blindness includes the visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better seeing eye with the best possible conventional correction techniques using regular glasses or contact lenses.
However, this definition has been revised in 2007 by the social security administration. The new definition measures the legal blindness by using newer low vision test charts with lines which can measure the visual acuity between 20/100 and 20/200. As per this new criteria, if, the patient’s visual acuity is measured with the help of one of the newer charts, and if the patient cannot read any of the letters on the 20/100 line, or if your visual field is 20 degrees or less, even with a corrective lens, it will qualify him/her as legally blind.
Claiming the Social Security Benefit
The Social Security Administration does not recognize visual impairment as a disability. The reasoning being that cases before the Social Security decision process are primarily judged by the applicant’s ability to work at their previous vocation or a similar one, which, in itself, offers an avenue for appeal if denied benefits.
Upon being determined blind or legally blind, the process is quite different than that of other disability applications. As mentioned previously, the claims approval rate is nearly 100%. The turnaround to decision and starting benefits is approximately 4 months as compared to other types of disability claims where the average decision/benefit time is 18-24 months. Along with monetary benefits comes medical benefit approval via Medicare at 2 years from the date of approval of benefits. The date of benefits is retroactive to the date of application with medical bill coverage extending back beyond that date for 3-6 months for applicable medical bills.
The amount of monetary benefit is determined by rate of FICA tax deducted from one’s employment income. The average monthly benefit amount generally falls in the area of $700 to $900. For those applicants deemed not qualified due to lack of sufficient pay into social security, be it through lack of work history in the specified time period or in the case of a child, there is another avenue available – SSI. SSI, or more correctly, Supplemental Security Income, is determined by the Social Security Administration, but it is managed at the individual state level.
While blindness can be viewed as a fast track to obtaining one’s due benefits, the chance of claim denial does exist. However small, it is there. As with any dealings with the Social Security Administration concerning disability benefits, the hiring of an attorney specializing in disability claims should be considered. Attorneys familiar with the process of claims can assure that you have the proper forms completed and that medical paperwork supporting your claim is adequate and sufficient enough in volume to overwhelmingly support your claim. When viewed on the basis of strength of case, the use of an attorney is not necessarily needed in a blind person’s application process.
The chances of returning to gainful employment are far more woeful than those involved with benefit approval/denial. Less than 0.075% of the blind in the world are employed in a gainful capacity. The nature of the compensation received by an attorney is a 25% or a cap at $5000 deducted from the lump sum of back benefits accumulated during the application process.
If you are blind, a sighted person, family or friend, doing the paperwork is adequate in most cases. This highlights another self-defeating issue when dealing with the Social Security Administration. While mandated by federal law to provide accessible material for the blind, they do not offer this for the application process. They will offer to read everything and to assist in the writing needed. Being blind, it is very difficult to trust someone you cannot see and do not know. This is where the family member or good friend comes in. Even should you hire an attorney, someone sighted whom you trust is very much the number one requirement in undertaking this whole process.