Question: It has been about a month since I applied for Social Security disability benefits and I still haven't heard anything. How long does a decision usually take?
Answer: The amount of time it takes for a decision on a disability claim varies. The nature of your disability and how quickly we are able to get medical evidence from your doctor or medical sources can make a difference in how long it takes. Generally, to get an initial decision on your case, it takes about four to five months. If your claim is initially denied, there are several steps in the appeal process that you can pursue.
Question: I'm 55 years old and have worked since I was 18. So I have well over the 40 credits I need to qualify for Social Security. Why do I have to keep paying Social Security taxes if I already qualify for maximum benefits?
Answer: As long as you are working, the law requires Social Security tax withholding for almost all wage earners. In addition, you should not confuse the eligibility rules with the benefit calculation rules. Although you need only 10 years, or 40 credits of coverage, to be vested in Social Security, your retirement benefit is based on your highest 35 years of earnings. In other words, if you were allowed to drop out of Social Security after meeting the 10-year vesting rule, you would receive a very small Social Security benefit when you reach retirement age, because we would have to add 25 years of "zero" earnings into your retirement calculation.
Question: My brother and I are both retired and get Social Security benefits. We worked side by side in the same factory for years, but he gets a higher Social Security payment. Why does he get more?
Answer: Unless you are twins and made exactly the same amount every year of your careers, you wouldn't get the same benefits as your brother. Social Security benefits are based on your age and your lifetime of earnings - generally the top 35 years. In order to get the same benefit as your brother, you and he must have been the same age, had the same total of earnings for each year and would had to have started and stopped working at the same time.
Question: My three-year old son is autistic. My husband and I have been told that he may be eligible for disability benefits from Social Security. How would he qualify for benefits? My husband and I both work full time and pay Social Security taxes.
Answer: Social Security administers the Supplemental Security Income program (SSI) which does pay disability benefits to some children. SSI is a needs-based program, so if your family is having a hard time making ends meet, your son might qualify for a monthly SSI payment. And if he gets SSI, he might also get Medicaid coverage. The only other way your son would qualify for payments is as a dependent on either your or your husband's Social Security record.
Question: My parents recently moved into a retirement community and they are signing their house over to me. Can I still get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or will home ownership make me ineligible?
Answer: You can own a home and still receive SSI as long as you live in the home you own. In most cases, when determining SSI eligibility we don't count the home you own and live in or the car you use as resources.
John Vogt is the Social Security district manager in Kingsport. Send questions to Vogt at Social Security, 2401 S. Wilcox Drive, Kingsport, Tenn., 37660.