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Work incentives from SSD.

Most people with MS would rather work than not, and many find ways to do so. But some find themselves so impaired by the illness that they leave the workforce and begin receiving Social Security disability benefits. Given the variable nature of MS, it's not uncommon for some of these people to want to try to return to work later on. Here's good news: Social Security rules provide some incentives.

The rules governing Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are different from those for Social Security Disability (SSD). Because more Social Security claimants with MS qualify under the latter, I'm outlining the work incentives offered by SSD.

SSD's key device to encourage a return to work is called the "trial work period". During this period, a disability claimant is allowed to keep both the income earned from work and the full disability benefit. As long as the underlying disabling condition still technically qualities the claimant for benefits, a total of nine "trial work" months are available.

Moreover, the months do not have to be consecutive. So, for example, if you go back to work for one month and discover that you are not yet ready, only one month of your trial work period is used. You are still entitled to eight more within a five-year period. In addition, if you go to work but earn less than $200 a month or work less than forty hours a month in self-employment, that month does not count against your trial work allotment. After the full nine months of trial work, Social Security will review your case to determine if you are capable of performing "substantial gainful activity".

The rules say that a claimant who regularly earns over $500 per month in gross wages ($830 if the claimant is blind) is considered to be performing substantial gainful activity. If a claimant is putting in long hours or bears substantial responsibility, that person may also be so considered, even if earnings don't exceed $500 per month. Either way, the person who is determined by SSD to be "substantially gainfully employed" is awarded an additional benefit period. The claimant can continue to receive full disability benefits for three more months while working.

Suppose your MS worsens within thirty-six months of completing the trial work period? If the underlying disabling condition still technically qualifies you for benefits, you can begin receiving disability benefits without filing a new claim or going through another waiting period. If worsening should occur more than thirty-six months after completing a trial work period, a new application will be required, but if the second application is within five years of the end of prior benefits, no new waiting period is required. The new benefits begin with the first full month of the "new" disability.

Entitlement to Medicare is also given special treatment. If you were entitled to Medicare benefits during the earlier disability period, Medicare coverage automatically resumes when the new benefits start. And, if you qualified for Medicare during the original period of disability and then successfully returned to work, you can choose to continue Medicare benefits for years after your disability benefits stop. If you did not qualify the first time because your period of disability was less than twenty-four months, those months will now count toward establishing your Medicare eligibility.

These rules mean that people with unpredictable diseases such as MS are not between a rock and a hard place: Forced to choose between trying to continue to work when their impairments are overwhelming or leaving work forever when a return might be possible.

Even though they are not flawless, SSD rules enable people with MS to enter and leave the workforce as their disabilities may dictate without sacrificing benefits.

Laura, Cooper, JD, volunteers as the National MS Society's special consultant on employment initiatives and as our national independent living consultant. She has been living with MS since 1979.
COPYRIGHT 1994 National Multiple Sclerosis Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Social Security Disability
Author:Cooper, Laura
Publication:Inside MS
Date:Jun 22, 1994
Words:648
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