Social Security Benefits After Suffering a Stroke
Sometimes individuals who have suffered a stroke recover. Sometimes the improvements are only minor, but at other times they may gradually make a full recovery. If you have suffered a stroke and then got approved for disability benefits, you may want to return to work after your symptoms have improved and you feel that you are able to work once again.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a trial work period for disability claimants that allows them to determine if they are able to get back into the workforce. During this trial period, the claimant isn’t at risk of losing disability benefits.
Each claimant has one 9-month trial period every 60 months. If you are interested in pursuing a trial period, you need to understand how it works so you don’t inadvertently use up your trial before you are ready to do so or without meaning to.
If you are among the 75% of stroke sufferers who has suffered residual effects, you may find yourself unable to handle your daily chores and tasks, let alone work. A stroke can impact your ability to communicate, use of your arms or legs, and impact your vision.
A stroke can be the result of a brain hemorrhage or a blocked blood vessel. The effects can vary, but almost always stroke patients experience some level of numbness, sensation loss, or weakness that impacts one side of the body. While some individuals only experience stroke symptoms on the short-term basis, others experience these symptoms for the rest of their lives. If you are one of those individuals who suffers from irreversible damage and you are unable to work, you may be eligible to receive monthly benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA).
If you have suffered a stroke that results in long-term or permanent impairments that make working no longer possible, you may be eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits. To qualify for disability benefits after a stroke, your condition must meet the SSA's guidelines, outlined in the SSA's Blue Book.
Impacting Your Ability to Work
You can suffer multiple symptoms after experiencing a stroke. If your left with residual effects that impact your mobility, such as severe weakness on one side that makes the use of one arm or one leg challenging and you find yourself unable to lift and carry things, you may be approved for disability. If you have been left with vision problems or the inability to speak clearly because the stroke impacted one side of your face, that can impact your ability to socialize, communicate and work.
Strokes can cause brain damage, so you may have difficulty concentrating, remembering details or how to do tasks, or communicating messages or issues to the proper staff. All these can seriously impact your ability to perform your work duties day to day. If one side of your body was left paralyzed, you may have to drag your leg or foot, which impacts your mobility and your ability to stand in one position for prolonged timeframes. Because of the inability to use an arm, you may find yourself unable to lift, carry, or grasp things as you normally would.
What Is The Trial Work Program?
During the 9-month trial work program, you can determine if your health has improved enough since your stroke so you can return to the workforce and make a living. You aren’t at risk of losing disability benefits during those 9 months.
When you are participating in the trial program, you must report your earnings to the SSA. Your report will include hours worked, earnings and your expenses associated with being able to perform the work duties. You will continue to receive your regular disability check every month during your 9-month trial.
After your trial period has been used, you will receive disability benefits for any month that you don’t earn the substantial gainful activity (SGA) limit. As of 2019, the SGA limit is $1,220 for a disability claimant, or $2,040 per month if you are blind.
If you exceed the SGA limit every month and no longer receive disability benefits at all, you will still qualify for Medicare benefits. You can get Medicare Part A for 93 months if you still need medical care. You will be required to pay the premiums to maintain coverage.
If you receive Part B, you can continue that coverage just so long as you continue paying your premiums as usual.
You may be able to successfully reenter the workforce and focus on returning to life as it was before your stroke, but there is always a risk of your condition worsening or you could suffer another stroke.
If your health problems cause you to stop working again during the next five years, your disability benefits will continue again. You will not have to reapply for disability benefits, and you will not have to wait to receive benefits while the claim is being reviewed.
You should know that the trial work limit earnings aren’t the same as the SGA limits. While the regular SGA limit is $1,220 per month, the trial work limit is only $880. If you earn more than $880 per month, you could inadvertently use up your trial work period without meaning to.
Be sure to pay close attention to your earnings if you are considering using your trial work period or if you want to try to get back in the workforce.
Passive Income and Self-Employment
Not all income involves working for an hourly wage or salary. Some of those who are disabled receive a passive income, or some are self-employed. You need to understand the differences in these kinds of earnings and how they can affect your monthly disability benefits.
You will need to keep track of all your earnings for your taxes and be sure to maintain documentation that shows the SSA what was done to receive each kind of earning, should they question your finances.
In most cases, passive earnings don’t affect your disability benefits. After all, that is money that you earn from very little or no daily effort. These earnings may include rental income or royalties and interest from things such as book sales or interest-bearing accounts and investments.
As far as self-employment comes into play, your income is counted differently. The SSA will count your income after your business expenses have been deducted and after your expenses associated with your ability to work because of your medical condition are also deducted.
You may require prescriptions, medical devices, special software, and other medical equipment so you can perform your duties while self-employed. You may earn more than the trial period limits, but after the deductions it end up being less than the allowable $880 per month.
However, what is usually considered when you are self-employed are your hours worked. In general, you can work about 10 hours per week, or 45 hours per month and still qualify for disability benefits.
The SSA considers that you can put many hours of work in a business and not be paid for those hours. If the business has substantial earnings and you are the only employee, the hours limit may be reviewed much differently.
Limitations for Specific Jobs
If you have suffered a stroke, it can impact your ability to perform specific jobs. If one side of your body has been left with severe muscle weakness, you will find yourself unable to be a mechanic, work with machinery, operate saws, use hand tools, or do any kind of construction work. You wouldn’t be able to climb ladders or run quickly, so you could no longer perform the duties of a firefighter, police officer, or paramedic. Communication difficulties can leave you unable to serve as a receptionist or as an educator.
Your driving can be impacted by your vision loss or your weakness on one side of your body, so you won’t be able to deliver mail, drive a delivery truck, or work as a cross-country truck driver. Because you no longer have full use of both arms, you can’t work in a retail store stocking shelves, running a cash register, or bagging groceries. Your communication impairments can prevent you from working in telemarketing, serving as office staff at a medical clinic, working as a sales representative, or being a customer service representative.
The SSA will apply tests to the claimant’s situation. The tests that are used depend on how long the claimant has received disability. The SSA will then take those details and determine if the individual is receiving more than the SGA level while working.
A claimant who has received disability for two years may be able to receive substantial income just so long as he or she isn’t working more than 45 hours per month. By the time business expenses are deducted and the costs associated with the disability, the actual earnings reduce significantly. So, you may be able to work and continue with your disability benefits.
If you receive disability benefits because of a stroke, but you are considering returning to work or using your trial work period, you should consult with a disability attorney who handles claims in your area. Your attorney will be able to review the details of your situation and determine the best way for you to proceed.
Applying for Disability Benefits
If you have decided to apply for Social Security disability benefits, you have multiple options to get the process started. You can make a call using the SSA’s toll-free number to 1-800-772-1213 and start the process over the phone with a representative. You can go online to start the application as well. If you prefer meeting with a representative face-to-face to start your claim, you can go to your nearest SSA office. You can have an advocate or an attorney to represent you during the claims process. If you have representation, you are much more likely to have your claim approved.
The claims process focuses on documentation, so you must provide detailed medical records including tests, test results, treatments, side effects, symptoms, physician notes, and proof of any restrictions and limitations. You also need to be able to show Disability Determination Services how your condition has impacted your daily life and your ability to do things. Documentation is the key to a successful claim.