Are any illnesses automatically approved for Social Security disability?

Q: Are any illnesses automatically approved for Social Security disability?

A: Not automatically approved, but several ways are used to speed up the medical decision for certain medical circumstances. 

Social Security disability has both work and medical requirements. The separate, need based, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program has financial limits and the same adult medical requirements.  

Social Security disability work requirements and SSI financial limits must be met before medical requirements are considered. For purposes of this answer, assume that these nonmedical requirements are met. 

Social Security has a strict definition of disability based on inability to work, with no provision for partial or temporary disability. In summary, you cannot do the work you did before, cannot be expected to adjust to other work because of your health, and your injury or illness has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or result in death.  

An official medical decision is always required but some medical conditions are so serious that their conditions obviously meet disability standards. For these, the Compassionate Allowances (CAL) initiative is a way to expedite the processing of Social Security and SSI disability claims.  

Compassionate Allowances is an internal method to identify and speed up the medical decision. It is not a separate application and does not remove any Social Security or SSI requirements. For example, the Social Security disability waiting period still applies even when a medical allowance has been approved. 

Again not automatic medical approvals, other methods of expediting a medical decision are used for Social Security and SSI. These are different from Compassionate Allowances. 

One Social Security disability example is Wounded Warriors. Military service members can receive expedited processing of disability claims from Social Security if the disability occurred while on active duty. In addition, since March 2014, veterans who have a VA compensation rating of 100% permanent and total (P&T) may receive expedited processing of applications for Social Security disability benefits. 

One Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability example is presumptive disability. For some severe medical conditions, where medical allowance is expected, several months of payment are sometimes payable in advance of receiving the official medical decision.


Can I apply for Social Security disability again?

Q: Can I apply for Social Security disability again if previously denied?

A: Yes, you can.

Before doing so, consider if your situation has changed from your original application. Social Security disability has both work and medical requirements. If the previous application was denied because you did not meet the work requirements, then your medical condition was not part of the decision. Unless your work history has changed, a new application will probably have the same results. If the prior decision was that you did not meet the medical requirements, again what has changed so that you might now meet them? You can file a new application if desired.

Social Security has a strict definition of disability based on inability to work. In summary, you cannot do the work you did before, cannot be expected to adjust to other work because of your health, and your injury or illness has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or result in death.

The Social Security disability homepage links to a Disability Planner section for more about filing for benefits. If you file, the entire application can be completed online.

You can also file again for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a separate, income based program for disabled adults and children, or people age 65 and older, who meet financial income and resource limits. SSI financial limits must be met before other requirements are considered. There is no work requirement. For adults, SSI uses the same strict definition of disability used for Social Security. The SSI application is not online.

Before filing a new SSI application, consider if your situation has changed from the original application. If an SSI disability application was denied for financial or other non-medical reason, then your medical condition was not part of the decision. Unless there has been a change in your situation, you will probably have the same results as before. You can file a new application if desired.

Remember that both Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) have an appeal process for people to question a decision that they did not agree with. If a denied application is within the appeals period stated in the decision letter, you can keep that application in progress by filing an appeal. Doing this is usually better than filing a completely new application. If you let the appeals period end, a new application can be filed.

For both programs, appeal of a medical decision can be requested online. To do this, follow the “Appeal Our Recent Medical Decision” link from the Social Security disability or SSI homepages. For appeal of other issues, contact Social Security.

Widow benefit amounts

Q: If you start widow’s benefits at age 60, you get a lesser amount. Does it go up as you get older?

A: Before getting to the question, I want to clarify that Social Security survivors benefits can be received by a widow or widower much younger than age 60. People die at all ages and different Social Security survivors benefits can apply in different situations.

For example, survivors benefits can be payable to much younger widows or widowers if children are involved. Benefits can be paid at age 50 to a disabled widow or widower. Based on age, 60 is the youngest age to start Social Security survivors benefits as a widower or widow. The booklet “Survivors Benefits” provides an overview of benefits.

Always contact Social Security when there is a death in the family to discuss possible benefits for now or in the future.

A Social Security survivors benefit amount is based on the earnings of the person who died. The more he or she paid into Social Security, the higher survivors benefits would be. The monthly amount you would get is a percentage of the deceased’s basic Social Security benefit. It depends on your age and the type of survivors benefit received.

When you start Social Security survivors benefits based on age at 60, the amount is permanently reduced, other than any cost of living increases, because you are starting benefits when younger than your survivors full retirement age (FRA).

Survivors full retirement ages are different from retirement FRA but the process is similar. The percentage of benefit received depends on how many months you are away from FRA when starting benefits. Each month of delay provides a higher benefit. As with retirement, the choice is to take a smaller benefit for potentially a longer time or a higher benefit for a shorter number of years.

Using the chart for survivors full retirement age of 66, for birth years 1945 – 1956, some approximate percentages of the maximum survivors benefit for different starting ages are:

  • Age 60: 71.5% because you get benefits for 72 months before FRA.
  • Age 62: 81.0% because you get benefits for 48 months before FRA.
  • Age 65: 95.3% because you get benefits for 12 months before FRA.

The Social Security survivors homepage has more information and links to the Survivors Planner section.

Consider your options before starting benefits, especially if you will also be eligible to receive your own Social Security retirement. For example, you could start the smaller of these benefits at a reduced rate and then, when older, such as at full retirement age, switch to the other benefit type at an unreduced rate.

Survivors estimates are not available online. If you do not receive Social Security benefits now, you can estimate potential survivors benefits for your family through your work record by creating a my Social Security account and viewing your Statement.


Do all Social Security offices have the same public hours?

Q: Do all Social Security offices have the same public hours?

A: Most do but not all.

Social Security local offices across the nation expanded their public hours in March 2015.

Routine public hours nationally are 9:00am – 4:00pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday and from 9:00am – noon on Wednesday. Offices close at noon every Wednesday so employees have time to work on existing workloads and other assignments.

Including in North Dakota, some very small offices have different hours that vary with location.

Specific office information is in the Contact Us section of the Social Security website, From the “Contact Us” page, click on the “Find an Office” link and input the local ZIP Code. The reply shows the local Social Security office address, hours, map and related information.

A local office visit is not needed for most Social Security work. Including completion of retirement and disability applications, most Social Security business can be conducted by telephone or online at, without visiting the office. Here is a list of services available online.

The Social Security national toll-free numbers, 800-772-1213 and TTY 800-325-0778, are staffed by SSA employees from 7:00am – 7:00pm, local time, Monday – Friday, standard business days. These representatives use the same computer system as in local offices to answer questions, make appointments and update your benefits. Automated services are also available through the national numbers.

Including changing your mailing address and direct deposit bank account information, you can update your benefits online yourself if you have created a personal, pin and password protected, my Social Security account at

Use the contact option best for you.



Will marriage change my Social Security?

Q: Will marriage change my Social Security benefits?

A: Remember that these articles provide general information and the answer to such a broad question varies with the type of Social Security benefits received. To learn about your actual benefits, contact Social Security and have a representative check your record.

Marriage will not change Social Security retirement or disability benefits from your own work record because they are based largely on your personal work history over many years and age when starting retirement or becoming disabled. Amounts received by husband or wife through their personal work records do not affect what the other receives.

Do you receive Social Security benefits as a divorced spouse? If a divorced spouse remarries, he or she generally cannot collect benefits on the record of the former spouse unless the later marriage ends.

If you receive Social Security survivors benefits as a widow or widower, your age at remarriage makes a difference in the answer. Widow or widowers of many ages receive Social Security survivor benefits. In general, if you remarry after you reach age 60 (age 50 if disabled), remarriage will not affect your eligibility for survivors benefits. For example, remarriage could end Social Security survivors benefits to a widow at age 40 but not to the same person at age 61. Social Security benefits to a surviving divorced spouse follow this age difference too.

Children can receive Social Security benefits through the work record of a parent. With rare exception, these Social Security benefits end if the child marries.

In addition to Social Security retirement, survivors and disability benefits, the Social Security Administration is also responsible for the very different, need based, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Since household income is used to compute SSI amounts, marriage could change monthly amounts.

One-time monthly earnings test rule


Q: I plan to retire in September at age 63. If I have earned over $17,000 so far this year, can I still start Social Security when I retire?

A: Yes, a person can receive Social Security when they retire even if having high earnings up to retirement.

This question is about the annual earnings test, also known as the retirement test.

Gross wages or net self-employment above earnings limits in a year can reduce Social Security payable during the year. The amounts vary based on your age compared to full retirement age (FRA), which is age 66 for birth years 1943 – 1954. Earnings limits end with the month you reach FRA. For a person younger than FRA all year, the 2015 earnings limit before benefit reduction is $15,720.

People retire all during the year and many have earned over annual earnings limits before then. For them, a one-time special earnings limit rule lets Social Security be paid for months of actual retirement even if calendar year earnings are high.

Earnings test information for 2016 should be available during October.

Including earnings test amounts, lots of SSA retirement planning information is on the Social Security website,, in the Retirement Benefits section and especially in the Retirement Planner area at

Different calculators are in the Retirement Planner section for your use. One of these is an “earnings test calculator” to help you see how your earnings may affect your benefit payments if you are currently working and are eligible for retirement or survivors benefits this year.


Receiving Social Security? Is your earnings estimate accurate?

Q: I am 64, work part-time and receive Social Security retirement. In 2015, I will earn more than expected. Should I update my earnings estimate with Social Security?

A: You probably should but it depends on what your original estimate was and what your current estimate is.

Gross wages or net self-employment earnings in a year can reduce benefits for the year until full retirement age (FRA). If expecting earnings over the 2015 limits for your age, update your earnings estimate now.

At age 64, which is younger than your FRA, the 2015 earnings limit is $15,720. Earnings over this will reduce benefits. Lower earnings will not.

If your current 2015 earnings estimate is over $15,720, you should definitely contact Social Security and update your estimate. On the other hand, if you originally expected to earn $10,000, but will actually earn $14,000, an updated estimate is not needed because both amounts are less than the $15,720 limit for 2015 and neither would reduce benefits payable this year.

Earnings test amounts vary based on your age compared to your full retirement age. Details about 2015 earnings limits for different ages are in the SSA retirement planner section,, and in publication 05-10069, How Work Affects Your Benefits, also in that section. Pensions and other non-employment income do not count for the earnings test.

If younger than full retirement age for all or part of the year, keeping your estimated calendar year earnings current with Social Security is important if you expect to earn over the earnings limit. This is especially so if your original estimate was below the limit and you will actually earn over it. You can update your estimate anytime during the year.

If you will earn more than originally estimated, and the amount is above your earnings test limit, updating your estimate now can prevent or reduce the chance of your being incorrectly paid and needing to refund money to Social Security.

If you originally expected to earn above your 2015 earnings test amount limit, but will really earn less, updating your estimate now can release any withheld benefits to you faster.

If your final earnings this year are over the annual limit for your age, report actual 2015 amounts directly to Social Security when you get your W-2 form, or if self-employed when you complete your taxes. This is different from tax filings.

The earnings test can apply to anyone younger than full retirement age if receiving Social Security benefits that are not based on their own disability. Separate rules apply to people receiving benefits because of their own disability. If working, they should contact Social Security for information.

Earnings test information for 2016 should be available during October.

See “What You Need To Know When You Get Retirement or Survivors Benefits” for other things to report. Call Social Security nationally at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY-1-800-325-0778) or contact your local office to report changes including your earnings estimate.

When eligible as widow and retiree

Q: Does starting Social Security as a widow prevent me from receiving my own retirement?

A: No. If eligible for SSA survivors benefits as widow or widower and also eligible for your own retirement, you can start the smaller one first and switch to the higher later on. Based on age, survivors benefits can start as early as age 60 and retirement at age 62.

You can estimate Social Security retirement amounts online but estimated survivors benefits are not available online.

Get survivors estimates from your local SSA office and of your own retirement online at the SSA retirement planner, To consider your options, my suggestion is to get estimates for each type of benefit at different ages.

Some options to consider are in the Social Security survivors planner section. The following is from the “if you are the worker’s widow or widower / how much would your benefit be?” pages.  

“If you receive benefits as a widow or widower or as a surviving divorced spouse, you can switch to your own retirement benefit as early as age 62. This assumes you are eligible for retirement benefits and your retirement rate is higher than your rate as a widow, widower or surviving divorced spouse.  

In many cases, a widow or widower can begin receiving one benefit at a reduced rate and then, at full retirement age, switch to the other benefit at an unreduced rate.” 

Having the option to start with the lower benefit and then switching to a higher one later is useful but what you decide is based on your personal situation. Many people choose the largest amount immediately available, even if a reduced amount, and do not switch benefit types.

More about Social Security survivors benefits is at



Correcting your work record

Q: I work part-time as an employee for a business and receive a W-2 for those wages plus I have separate self-employment earnings that I pay taxes on when filing my taxes each year. Only the W-2 wages appear on my most recent Social Security Statement. Since I have been paying self-employment taxes, shouldn’t they be on my Social Security number earnings history as well? How do I fix this?

A: Most people who pay into Social Security work for an employer. Their employer deducts Social Security taxes from their paycheck, matches that contribution, sends taxes to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and reports wages to Social Security. If registered for SSA Business Services, employers can verify employee Social Security numbers online and report W-2 wage information electronically.

Self-employed people must report their earnings and pay their taxes directly to IRS. If self-employed, you report your earnings for Social Security when you file your federal income tax return. If your net earnings are $400 or more in a year, you must report your earnings on Schedule SE, in addition to the other tax forms you must file.

All employment earnings for a year are usually posted to your personal work record near the end of October of the following year so your total 2014 employment earnings should be posted to your record approximately the end of October 2015. This applies whether or not a person receives monthly Social Security benefits. When already receiving benefits, new earnings are automatically reviewed to see if they will increase the amount.

If earlier years are not correctly posted, your local Social Security office can help correct your record. Evidence generally needed includes proof of the earnings, such as a W-2 and 1099. For self-employment, tax return information including tax form Schedule SE and proof of tax payment is also needed.

If you received your Social Security Statement by mail, know that you can get a copy of it anytime at your convenience by creating a personal, pin and password protected, my Social Security account. More about doing this is at

Are Social Security numbers issued consecutively?

Q: Are Social Security numbers issued consecutively?

A: No. Social Security numbers (SSN’s) have been issued randomly since June 2011 to help protect number integrity and to extend longevity of the nine-digit SSN nationwide.

A Social Security number has three parts. Before numbers were issued randomly in 2011, the first three digits, called the Area Number, reflected the State where the card was issued and later the zip code of the SSN application address. In general, SSN’s issued on the east coast had the lowest numbers and became higher moving along to the west coast.

Remember that the Social Security number process was designed in 1936, long before computers. SSN applications of that period were stored in files organized by region and alphabetically. Having the Area Number reflect a geographic area was an internal bookkeeping device to organize manual SSN records.

The middle two digits of the SSN are the Group Number. Although not used consecutively, before the change to random issuance, a Group number could be used to determine when the SSN was issued. This ability was a tool to help employers determine if a SSN was real. Today employers can verify a SSN immediately online through Social Security Business Services.

The final four digits are the Serial Number. Before the change to random issuance, they were issued consecutively within each Group series but had no specific meaning.

For SSN’s issued since the random process started in 2011, there is no geographical significance to the first three digits, the Area Number, because they are no longer associated with any specific area of the country. This means more SSN’s are available across the country since any Area Number can be issued anywhere.

The middle two digits, the Group Number, no longer can be used to determine when the Social Security number was issued. Change to both Area and Group Numbers protect individuals by making it harder to figure out a SSN.

More about the random issuance of Social Security numbers is here.

Here is a 1930’s photo of filing cabinets used to store Social Security records:

SSN card files-1930's