Around 1.3 million US residents are currently declared legally blind. This diagnosis refers to those who experience less than 20/200 vision in their better eye or have a visual field of 20 degrees or less. While blindness brings with it enough difficulties and adjustments, approximately 70% of blind adults are also unemployed.
Fortunately, for those who are unable to work due to their blindness, Social Security disability benefits may be able to help. If you are unable to provide for yourself because of complications from your blindness, look below to see if you may qualify for benefits.
Step One: Determine how much your blindness limits you.
Blindness of all severities can cause several major changes to your lifestyle. When the Social Security Administration (SSA) determines if you qualify for benefits, they need to know how much these changes prevent you from working and taking care of yourself.
For instance: if you are experiencing a loss of vision due to macular degeneration, your eyesight may be excessively blurred, especially in your center field of vision. This may make tasks like driving or working impossible, while making it extremely difficult to walk, cook, or clean unassisted. The more your blindness prevents you from providing for yourself, the more Social Security is likely to award monthly benefits to help.
Step Two: Consult the Blue Book and retrieve test results confirming the severity of your condition.
To evaluate applications, the SSA refers to the “Blue Book”, a guide which contains all Social Security-approved disabilities and the tests required to gain approval for them. For example, those who are declared legally blind with medical tests are considered automatically approved for disability benefits under section 2.00 of the Blue Book.
For those whose blindness is not listed in the Blue Book, do not worry — you are not disqualified from receiving benefits. This only means that, when applying, it is important to include as much medical evidence as possible to the SSA to prove that your blindness requires assistance. Evidence may include a visual acuity test, a cyclopegic refraction test (which studies the strength of pupil muscles), a visual response test, or a visual field test.
Step Three: Gather tax info, work history, and prepare to fill out the application.
The Social Security disability application requires all information that gives insight onto your life and how your illness affects you. This includes your Social Security number, addresses, references, medical documents, and even tax info and work history.
Tax information allows the SSA to see how much money you have contributed to Social Security in the years you’ve been working. To qualify for benefits, these contributions (called “credits”) must be equal to or higher than the expected contribution of someone of your age.
Work history is also provided to show the SSA what types of work you have experience in, when/if you stopped working, and whether or not your amputation prevents you from working similar jobs.
Qualifying with Blindness using the Medical Vocational Allowance
The Social Security Administration has guidelines to evaluate claims that don’t meet the criteria for Social Security disability benefits where the diagnosis would not prevent someone from working but the diagnosis could prevent the applicant from fulfilling the requirements of the job. This is where the medical vocational guidelines come into play.
Under the medical vocational guidelines, the SSA will determine whether exertional and nonexertional demands of a job will impact your ability to work. If your diagnosis prevents you from working entirely or from performing certain requirements of your job, then you might qualify for a medical vocational allowance. Exertional demands include walking, sitting, standing, lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling. Nonexertional demands include mental, postural, manipulative, communicative and environmental job demands.
The medical vocational guidelines will be used in the case of blindness by ascertaining whether you are capable of performing sedentary work, light work or medium work. The goal is to determine whether an adjustment can be made for other jobs.
If the applicant has not been determined to be disabled then the medical vocational guidelines will be used to determine whether he can adjust to other work, and in the case of someone who is disabled then the question will be whether he can adjust to other work.
The SSA will base the evaluation on your age, educational background, work experience and work history and your residual function capacity (RFC). The RFC determines the maximum amount of work you can do given your diagnosis, and it will be one of the most important factors in establishing whether you are capable of performing the required duties of your job.
Medical Evidence to Support Your Claim
The Social Security Administration is the agency responsible for evaluating your claim, and they utilize the Disability Evaluation Under Social Security Listing of Impairments as a guideline. Commonly referred to as the Blue Book, the SSA uses these guidelines to compare your diagnosis with their list of criteria to make their decision. Each case is evaluated on an individual basis with the Blue Book serving as a guide, and that’s what makes the supporting medical documentation you provide so important.
Your application for disability benefits with blindness should include a report from your doctor outlining the diagnosis and treatment plan. It should include all tests that have been conducted to support the diagnosis, including lab work and imaging.
You should also have an outline of the treatment plan and any medications you are taking. Make sure you document all side effects you experience as part of your treatment plan, as sometimes the side effects can cause complications that can be as debilitating as the diagnosis itself.
Keep in mind that you will be asked to sign a consent form so that the SSA can contact your medical providers for more information, but it’s important to understand that even though they have consent to contact your doctor the SSA will not request imaging or lab tests if they need it to make their decision. For that reason, it’s imperative that you provide all relevant medical documentation from the start so that your application can be processed as quickly as possible.
How to Apply
You can file your application for Social Security disability benefits online, in person at your local SSA branch, or via mail.
Filing online is the easiest option. Go to the Social Security website and create an account, and then you can access the application. Once you start your application, the date you begin will serve as the date you could receive back pay if you qualify.
You can take your time to gather your medical documentation and then submit it all electronically. Since you filed through the SSA website you will have a record of when the application was started and when it was received.
If you want to file a paper application, you can either print one from the SSA website or you can pick one up at your local Social Security office. You can either return the form to the SSA office or mail it in, but make sure you have a copy of everything in case it gets lost.
When filing a paper application, you can also submit a protective filing notice that indicates your intention to file a claim, and that will serve as your start date. This is a great option because it can take some time to gather all of your medical documentation and this will ensure that any back pay you receive will go back to when you submitted the protective filing statement.
How a Social Security Disability Attorney Can Help
One of the biggest challenges in filing a claim for Social Security disability benefits is making sure that your application is as complete as possible. As you have seen, applying for benefits involves a lengthy application that requires an exhaustive amount of documentation. It is in your best interest to submit as much information as possible so that the SSA can evaluate your claim in an expedient manner.
While the SSA operates field offices and a phone line with representatives who can answer questions, they cannot help you to complete the application and you might rely upon friends and family for help. Even then, though, you might encounter challenges and that’s when turning to a professional could be the best move.
A Social Security disability attorney can be very helpful in this situation. They may know the ins and outs of the application process, along with the specific documentation that the SSA will need to evaluate the claim. Having an attorney on your case does not guarantee that your claim will be approved, but it will increase the chances for approval because your application will contain everything needed.
Some Social Security disability attorneys will work on a contingency fee basis, which means that they will not require payment up front and they will only require payment up front if you win your case. Others work on an hourly basis or will ask for a flat fee, so make sure you’re clear about the fee structure before hiring an attorney.
Contacting a Social Security Attorney
While it is possible to complete the process yourself, applying for disability can sometimes be overwhelming. If you feel that you may qualify for disability benefits, it is wise to consult with a disability advocate or attorney. They are an irreplaceable resource when filing out applications, keeping paperwork organized, and aiding you in the appeals process if necessary. It is also required by law that disability attorneys do not receive payment unless you win your case.
To give yourself the best chance at receiving the assistance you deserve, speak with a disability attorney today.