Note: This article is the first of a 3 part series. Part II will focus on details of Social Security Disability, and Part III will cover part-time work options for those who can’t work full-time due to disability.
Deborah, 52 years old, was a systems analyst for a regional finance company. She had to leave her job a year ago due to nerve impingement from disc injuries to her neck from an accident at home. Even with surgery and medication, the range of motion in her neck and ability to use her arms is limited, and she now needs to lie down 4-5 times throughout the day to minimize pain. Her doctor says that she should not work more than a total of 4 hours per day, unless she can work while lying down. She left her job when it became obvious that she could no longer function consistently due to pain. Deborah is married with one child in college. Her family has suffered because of her loss of income, even though she has managed to find some contract work as an independent consultant, some of which she can do while lying down. Deborah has always gotten great satisfaction from her job and thus, the part-time work has at least continued to provide some sense of achievement in her life as well as limited income.
Deborah’s case is not unique. Many workers are faced with non work-related illness and disability during their careers, interrupting the ability to work full-time. Obviously this has financial implications, but for the career centric professional, the threat of having to stop working prematurely can also unravel the fabric of self-esteem, self-worth, and social status.
Several potential options exist for dealing with both the financial consequences of leaving a full-time job and the desire to keep working. These include long-term disability insurance policies, Social Security Disability, pension programs that include disability options, tax exemptions or credits, and vocational rehabilitation.
If you have long-term disability insurance and meet the requirements to receive benefits, this can help. Although Deborah had short-term disability benefits from her company which covered a 6 month period, she never purchased a long-term disability policy. Typical policies may cover benefits for 2 years, 5 years, or up to age 65. Waiting periods to receive benefits vary and benefits may be 50-70% of earnings subject to a maximum. Such policies may also reduce benefits if you get other disability benefits; and may provide only partial benefits if you can work some of the time, or if you go to work in a different occupation or for a different employer.
Social Security Disability is one of the major financial options that professionals who are disabled and who do not have long-term disability benefits, can overlook A monthly allowance is provided as well as Medicare, a substantial additional financial benefit for those who don’t otherwise have medical insurance. Some people may be unaware they could be eligible for Social Security Disability, but if you paid into the Social Security system during your work years, you may be entitled to this help.
One of the most common misconceptions about Social Security Disability is that an individual cannot work at all. The rules on employment while receiving Social Security benefits are complex, but generally if you do not exceed the level of what Social Security considers Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), your benefits will not be affected. In Deborah’s case, when she was granted benefits at $1800 per month, she could still work part-time as a consultant from home as long as her part-time income did not exceed $1090 per month.
For those who work for the government, disability benefits may be available, whether or not contributions were made to Social Security. Benefit criteria and amounts, as well as criteria for working while receiving disability benefits differ based on the plans.
There are also some tax credit programs that can increase income by lowering taxes. Homestead exemptions exist in many states and counties for permanently disabled homeowners. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for use on your Federal tax return may also be an option, particularly, like Deborah, if you have some earned income or file jointly with a spouse who has earned income.
Finally, vocational rehabilitation benefits may be available to provide evaluation, counseling, medical and supportive services, equipment, training, and education to qualify for a new career, as well as for job placement help. The purpose is to prepare and help you find a job or new career that you can do full or part-time within the constraints of your disability. The major vocational rehabilitation programs provided in the U.S. are the State-Federal program operated in each state through the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation or similar state agency. Such programs usually have numerous local offices. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) also operates a comprehensive vocational rehabilitation program for service-disabled veterans. Each VA Regional Office has one or more Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) offices throughout its covered area and every state has at least one VA Regional Office.
In summary, if you must stop working full-time, all is not lost. There are usually financial options to help keep you afloat and part-time employment options that are amenable to tailoring a fulfilling work situation around your limitations.