Social Security Financial Support for Blind or Low Vision People

By Social Security Disability Help

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If you are blind or have low vision and are temporarily or permanently unable to work, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers two different programs created to help individuals who are disabled. Those approved for benefits from these programs will receive a monthly benefits check.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a program that is based on your work history and the number of credits that you have earned. Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) is completely needs-based and does not involve work history. Financial criteria are set by the SSA to determine SSI eligibility. You may qualify solely for SSDI or SSI or there may be circumstances when you qualify for both programs.

The monthly benefits received for being disabled can help a family pay the necessities from month to month. After you have been eligible to receive disability benefits for two years, you qualify for Medicare. Part A of Medicare, hospital insurance, is free, but Part B, medical insurance, costs a small amount, $104 per month as of January 1, 2016.  In some states, persons on SSDI may also be eligible for Medicaid, which is a government paid insurance program for those who meet specific low-income guidelines.  If you are on SSI, you will very likely qualify for Medicaid, but you must apply with your local Human Services office in order to get it. 

Special Rules for Blind or Low Vision People:

If you are still working in some capacity, or want to return to work, you may still be eligible for benefits. The SSA uses Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) as the first determining factor for benefits. If you are able to earn over the SGA amount, you may not qualify. For people who are blind or have low vision, this limit is substantially higher, at $1,820 a month as of January 1, 2016.   That is a higher amount than is the case for people with other disabilities.  There are also Blind Work Expenses (BWE) that can be deducted from the amount you earn. SSDI has a nine month Trial Work Period to enable you to transition back into employment.  SSI tapers off gradually as your income increases. There are earnings exemptions for students under the age of 22.  See the SSA Red Book for more information. 

Qualifying for Disability Medically Because of Vision Loss:

Legal blindness is classified by the SSA as central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the eye that is considered as the better eye even when using a corrective lens. The SSA Blue Book, which is the medical guide used for disability determination, has multiple listings pertaining to blindness or low vision. Here are the two ways you can qualify for disability benefits through the Blue Book listing if you are blind:

  • Loss in central vision requiring that you see no better than 20/200 in your better eye even with corrective lenses, OR
  • Limitation in the field of vision in the better eye so that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle of 20 degrees or less (tunnel vision).

Sometimes your vision loss could be the result of an underlying chronic medical condition, such as diabetes, hypertension, or autoimmune disease. There may be situations where you may not meet the listings for vision loss in the Blue Book for disability approval. However, your vision loss in conjunction with your chronic health condition may show how the combined issues impact your ability to work and do everyday activities, enabling you to get benefits.

Applying for SSDI or SSI Benefits:

The process of applying for SSDI or SSI through the SSA can be lengthy and complicated. Remember, the more documentation of your medical condition and strong evidence of how you are affected can significantly improve your chances of being approved for benefits more quickly. Include medical records, test and lab results, doctor’s notes and any evidence of how your daily activities are limited. You need to provide evidence of what you are not able to do because of your vision loss and other underlying medical conditions. You may be asked to undergo an eye or medical exam, and will be expected to complete a lengthy form that describes your limitations. 

Usually, you can expect to be notified by the SSA of whether or not you are approved for benefits. If you are denied, you can appeal. If you appeal, present more evidence so your claim can be considered again. If you are denied the second time, you can appeal a second time. After two denials, you can request a hearing before an administrative law judge.  If your claim meets the Blue Book criteria and you have provided all the required information, you should have your disability claim approved rather quickly. You can start your claim by calling the SSA at 800-772-1213.  If you need legal assistance, your lawyer’s charge must be approved in advance by SSA. 

For additional information, please contact help@ssd-help.org.

This information is brought to you by Social Security Disability Help in partnership with Blindness: Learning In New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc.

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