I have a friend who suffered a fall two years ago. While the cause is still somewhat inconclusive, his subsequent rehab and overall health has put him on the sidelines from work. No income, divorced, with two underage children. Very recently, he was awarded Social Security disability benefits — which has provided some timely financial assistance and peace of mind.

Most people do not like to think about disability. However, the onset of disability is unpredictable and can happen to anyone at any age. The younger generation is not immune to illness or injury. Unfortunately, the reality is that one in four 20-year-old workers become disabled before reaching retirement age. When severe illness or injury robs a person of the ability to work and earn a living, Social Security disability benefits can provide a critical source of financial support at a time of need.

When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn credits. These credits count toward retirement, survivors, and disability benefits. The number of credits you need to qualify for disability benefits depends on your age, and some of the work must be recent. For example, the younger you are the fewer credits you need to have. For most people, you need to have worked at least a total of 10 years, but if you are younger, you may qualify with as little as a year and a half of work.

You don’t need to have had a heart attack, organ transplant, or cancer to qualify for disability benefits. However, you must have a disability that is severe enough to render you unable to work and that is expected to last a year or longer, or result in death.

If you have such a disability, you should start your application now. That’s because it takes time to determine whether you qualify for benefits. Step number one usually starts with a medical evaluation from the state agency, which can take 2-3 months to schedule and complete. If your application is approved, your first Social Security disability payment will be made for the sixth full month after the date the state agency determines that you qualify for disability benefits. So this is not a quick process.

The Social Security Administration provides helpful guidance, information, and a step-by-step application process online. Just visit their website: http://www.socialsecurity.gov

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– John D. Miller is the founder/owner of Home Care Partners, LLC, a Massachusetts business providing private duty, personalized in-home assistance and companion care services to those needing help in daily activities and household functions. He can be reached at: (781) 378-2164; email: jdmiller@homecarepartners.biz ; or online at: www.homecarepartnersma.com

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