Impaired Vision As A Basis For SSDI Claims
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is intended to provide financial support for individuals who are unable to work as a result of a long-lasting or permanent disability. To ensure that the financial support is distributed efficiently and only to those who truly are in need, the Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates all applications for SSDI benefits. Retaining the services of an experienced SSDI attorney who will not only assist in preparing one’s application, but will also help shepherd that application through the examination, and can be the difference between approval and denial. Individuals with vision impairments face a unique challenge, and the SSA has established separate rules under which these individuals may qualify for SSDI benefits. A discussion of what qualifies as blindness according to the SSA, and some special rules that apply to these claims, will follow below.
Qualifying for SSDI Benefits with Blindness
Generally, to qualify for SSDI benefits, the SSA will consult the Listing of Impairments, a publicly-available listing of medical impairments that define various aspects of disabilities which, if present in an application, will qualify him/her for SSDI benefits. With regard to blindness, one must meet one or more of the following qualifications:
- Loss of central visual acuity. This requirement means that vision loss within an applicant’s central field of vision must result in a vision rating of no better than 20/200 in the better eye.
- Contraction of the visual field in the better eye. If an applicant has a very narrow and shrinking field of vision, in which the diameter is no greater than 20-30 degrees, as measured by a physician pursuant to standard tests, he/she can qualify.
- Loss of visual efficiency or visual impairment. This requirement, which covers issues of blurry or unfocused vision, as opposed to legal blindness, in which the applicant has a vision rating of no greater than 20/200 when wearing corrective lenses.
If an applicant cannot qualify according to one or more of the above Blue Book categories, then the SSA examiner can conduct a residual functional capacity analysis. In this case, the examiner will ascertain whether the decreased vision, or blindness, prevents the applicant from working in any job. The examiner will do this by reviewing the applicant’s functional limitations, such as limitations on the ability to drive, read, or get around in unfamiliar locales. Qualifying under the residual functional capacity analysis means that the SSA believes the applicant cannot work in any job due to his/her functional limitations, depending on the applicant’s age.
It should be noted that, in practice, it is actually more difficult to be successful in obtaining SSDI benefits if an applicant suffers from low vision, as opposed to being totally (or legally) blind. This is due to the fact, that in most of these cases, the applicant must qualify through the residual functional capacity analysis.
Special Rules for Blind Individuals
The SSA does, in fact, have special rules that apply to individuals who receive SSDI benefits as a result of vision disabilities.
- Typically, SSDI benefits recipients are encouraged to obtain employment. However, once a recipient makes above a specified amount, SSDI benefits will be phased out. For vision impaired individuals, this phase-out occurs at a much higher level than recipients who are not vision impaired.
- As part of encouraging recipients to obtain employment, the SSA includes time spent working on and building a solo business. However, the SSA does not include this if a recipient is vision impaired.
- Vision impaired recipients over the age of 55 can exceed the work amount and have their benefits suspended, as opposed to stopped, which is the normal result for types of impairments. This means that benefits will automatically resume for any month in which income falls below that specified amount.
If you are vision impaired, speak to an attorney having experience with directing SSDI applications through the SSA. The legal team at Farrell Disability Law has the experience necessary to help you obtain the benefits you deserve. Contact our Jacksonville office today.