ENJOY ARMED FORCES DAY AND YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY PROTECTIONS

Looking for something fun to do in May? Why not dig out the lawn chairs from the basement or garage and take your family to one of the many Armed Forces Day commemorations around the country? This year, this significant day falls on May 16.

Each year around this time, parades, air shows, and local celebrations honor the brave men and women who serve in the United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard. In 1953, President Eisenhower called Armed Forces Day a time for “paying special tribute to those whose constancy and courage constitute one of the bulwarks guarding the freedom of this nation and the peace of the free world.”

When America’s military personnel need to file Social Security disability claims, we are there for them. Social Security disability insurance is a critical safety net that protects an estimated 165 million civilian and military workers who pay into the system through taxes on their earnings.

You can hear inspiring stories from some of these workers and learn about Social Security’s disability program at our Faces and Facts of Disability web page. Visit www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityfacts.

Congress created the Social Security disability program nearly 60 years ago so that civilian and active-duty military workers would have insurance in the event a severe disability cut their work life short. (In 1988, Congress included inactive Armed Forces reservists.) For information of special interest to wounded warriors and veterans, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/veterans.

Whether your job is inside or outside the military, imagine how you would pay your bills if you had to stop working because of severe disability, such as a traumatic brain injury or stroke. You would be glad that you had paid into Social Security throughout your career.

The average Social Security disability payment is under $1,200 a month, barely over the federal poverty level, but enough to help with basic needs. Because the Social Security statute requires a very strict definition of disability, people who receive these payments are among the most severely disabled Americans. In fact, they are more than three times as likely to die in a year as other people who are the same age.

Like America’s vigilant armed services, Social Security is there for us when we need it.

This Armed Forces Day, as you and your family are out enjoying the spring breeze and watching the flight formations overhead, you might want to take a private moment to give thanks for the military personnel who make our many freedoms possible. And, while you’re contemplating all that America has to offer, don’t forget how Social Security disability insurance protects millions of workers every day.

When you get home, after putting those chairs away and tucking everyone in, take a moment to explore the Faces and Facts of Disability at www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityfacts. What you discover there may surprise you.

THANK AN OLDER AMERICAN, AND SOCIAL SECURITY’S PIONEERS

This May, thank an older American in your life for everything he or she does for you and the community.

May is Older Americans Month. Since its origin in 1963, this has been a time to celebrate the contributions of parents, grandparents, trusted mentors, and others—whose wisdom and experience we sometimes take for granted.

This year’s Older Americans Month slogan, “Get into the Act,” urges organizations and the public to help “promote healthy aging, increase community involvement for older adults, and tackle important issues like the prevention of elder abuse,” according to the Administration for Community Living, which sponsors the observance. This catchy slogan also spotlights the Older Americans Act, which turns 50 this year. The Older Americans Act provides federal funding for a range of services that assist people age 60 and over.

One of the most important programs protecting older Americans—Social Security disability insurance—works differently from other federal programs. Created by Congress nearly 60 years ago, this insurance program ensures that workers who have not yet reached their full retirement age have something to fall back on in the event of a catastrophic illness or injury that forces them to stop working. Workers and employers fund this program through taxes on workers’ earnings.

You can find out more about how the Social Security disability insurance program works, and hear inspiring stories from people living with disabilities, by visiting Social Security’s Faces and Facts of Disability web page at www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityfacts.

As you meet the people there and listen to their stories, put yourself in their place for a moment. How would you keep your head above water if you had to quit working because your kidneys stopped functioning normally, or because you could no longer see? How would you and your family survive? You’d be glad to be one of the estimated 165 million workers who pay into Social Security.

Although Social Security disability benefits average less than $1,200 a month, they can help with basic needs. Because the Social Security statute requires a very strict definition of disability, people who receive benefits are among the most severely disabled Americans. But, for many who satisfy our strict disability criteria, this modest assistance is the only thing keeping them out of poverty.

Sadly, one in four 20-year-olds will become disabled before reaching retirement age. For young and older Americans alike, Social Security disability insurance provides a critical safety net.

When the country began recognizing Older Americans Month in 1963, only 17 million Americans had reached their 65th birthday, about a third of older Americans lived in poverty, and few programs existed to meet their needs. Today, the country has over 40 million people age 65 or older, and the Census Bureau estimates that about 90 percent of them live above the poverty line. To learn more about the many programs available for today’s older Americans, visit the Administration for Community Living at www.acl.gov/olderamericansmonth.

So, as you’re thumbing that text message to your grandmother—thanking her for shuttling you to your swim meets all those years—think about the generation before her that had the wisdom and courage to establish vital social supports like the Older Americans Act and Social Security disability insurance.

Then head to www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityfacts and see how Social Security is making a critical difference in the lives of people with disabilities.

GET A CHECKUP, AND CHECK UP ON YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY KNOWLEDGE

Your last checkup was … a while ago. Your exercise plan is, well, still under development. Fresh fruits and vegetables? You’ve almost forgotten what they look like.

If you’ve been putting your health off for another day, what better time than National Women’s Health Week to get back on track? This important observance kicks off on Mother’s Day, May 10. To mark the occasion, the Office of Women’s Health is encouraging women of all ages to take a few simple steps to look after their bodies and minds. These common-sense measures include getting regular checkups and preventive screenings, being active, and eating healthy.

Of course, this is sound advice for men too, because small steps like these can go a long way toward reducing anyone’s risk of illness and injury.

When misfortune does strike, Social Security is there to protect workers and their families. This is why a portion of your Social Security taxes goes to pay for disability insurance coverage, along with your employer’s contribution. You can learn more about how the Social Security disability program works, and hear inspiring stories from people living with severe disabilities, by visiting Social Security’s Faces and Facts of Disability web page at www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityfacts.

Think for a moment about how you’d pay your bills if a serious car accident took away your ability to walk, or your doctor told you were dying from end-stage breast cancer or leukemia. Learning that you are eligible for Social Security disability benefits would probably mean a lot. Although disability benefits are modest—less than $1,200 a month on average—they can help with basic needs.

Congress created Social Security disability insurance nearly 60 years ago so that workers would have something to fall back on if a severe disability interrupted or ended their work life. Because the Social Security statute requires a very strict definition of disability, people who qualify to receive Social Security disability are among the most severely disabled Americans.

National Women’s Health Day reminds us all to minimize our risk of falling victim to disability by doing what we can to stay healthy. Besides the tips noted above, the Office on Women’s Health recommends getting enough sleep and managing stress. It also cautions against smoking, texting while driving, and doing without protective devices like seatbelts and bicycle helmets. For the full list of recommendations, visit the Office on Women’s Health website at www.womenshealth.gov/nwhw.

There you will also find information about National Women’s Checkup Day on May 11. This observance urges women to schedule their annual “well-woman visit” with a doctor or nurse to discuss their health, arrange for necessary tests, and set wellness goals. The Affordable Care Act requires most health plans to provide this preventive service at no charge.

Despite our best efforts at prevention, the sad reality is that one in four 20-year-olds will become disabled before reaching retirement age. You can find out more—and check out our interactive quiz, powerful videos, and moving personal stories—while exploring the Faces and Facts of Disability at www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityfacts.

This information will give you a lot to think about while you’re digging in your closet for those old running shoes to burn off that Mother’s Day brunch—or getting up the courage to slide open the neglected vegetable drawer at the bottom of the fridge.

While you’re managing your busy life and renewing your efforts to keep healthy, Social Security disability insurance is providing a vital safety net for America’s workers, quietly protecting you and your family.

SOCIAL SECURITY TAKES THE STAGE FOR MENTAL HEALTH MONTH

“Before Stage 4,” your friend remarks casually over lunch, waiting for you to comment.

“I’m sorry,” you reply, with a quizzical expression. “Would you mind repeating that?”

That’s how a conversation might begin about this year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Month, which the United States observes every May. Mental Health America, the observance’s leading sponsor, chose the intriguing theme of ‘B4Stage4’ to get people talking.

Short for Before Stage 4, the theme encourages early detection and treatment of mental health issues before they progress to Stage 4—a reference to the most advanced stage of cancer. Since there is no equivalent staging system for mental illness, this analogy underscores the importance of acting quickly to address mental health concerns, just as we try to do for cancer and other progressive diseases.

At Social Security, we see the devastating effects of severe mental and physical disabilities every day. When a serious impairment interrupts or ends a person’s work life, he or she may qualify to receive Social Security disability payments. This is insurance coverage that workers and employers pay for through taxes on workers’ earnings.

You can find out how the program works, and hear inspiring stories of people living with severe disabilities, by visiting our Faces and Facts of Disability web page at www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityfacts.

What would you do if you could no longer work because of a severe disability like schizophrenia, cancer, or heart disease? How would you pay your bills and support your family? Would you be able to take care of your financial needs?

Congress created Social Security disability insurance nearly 60 years ago so workers would have something to fall back on if a debilitating illness or injury struck unexpectedly. Social Security disability benefits are modest, less than $1,200 on average. Yet, for many, they can mean the difference between making ends meet and falling into poverty.

Our statutory definition of disability is very strict. To qualify for Social Security disability, your condition must be expected to last at least a year or result in death, and it must be so severe that it prevents you from doing your past work and from adjusting to any other work based on your age, education, and past work experience.

Consequently, people who qualify for Social Security disability benefits are among the most severely disabled Americans. Due to the severity of their conditions, Social Security disability beneficiaries only live about 10 years, on average, after they begin collecting benefits.

Mental Health Awareness Month reminds us to monitor our health and take early signs and symptoms of mental illness, or any other potentially severe condition, seriously. On its website at www.mentalhealthamerica.net, Mental Health America (formerly known as the National Mental Health Association) provides adult screening tools for several common disorders and encourages visitors to share their results with a physician or health-care provider.

One in 20 Americans lives with a serious mental illness like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression, according to the federal government’s mental health website at www.mentalhealth.gov. And, about 27 percent of workers who receive Social Security disability benefits qualify because of a severe mental health condition.

If you believe you or a family member may be suffering from mental illness, you can find helpful resources, including crisis hotline information, at www.mentalhealth.gov.

To learn more about how Social Security is protecting America’s workers, and to meet some of the people behind the statistics, be sure to explore the Faces and Facts of Disability at www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityfacts.

LOOK AFTER YOUR HEART, YOUR BRAIN … AND YOUR SAFETY NET

“Love your heart. Help your brain.” That’s the slogan for National Stroke Awareness Month in May. The American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association are taking this opportunity to get the word out that 80 percent of strokes are preventable. Yet someone has one every 40 seconds. The key to warding off a stroke, these organizations tell us, is looking after your heart.

Imagine if a stroke happened to you. One day, you’re going about your business as usual. You notice your vision getting blurry, and one side of your body feels numb. Fortunately, you recognize the warning signs and call 911. The emergency room doctors respond quickly, but your stroke leaves you unable to speak clearly and move as you did before. You learn that you may never fully recover your lost function.

What if you could no longer work?

As frightening as this scenario sounds, stroke is just one of the many serious impairments that threaten workers’ livelihoods every day. To hear personal stories of people forced to stop working because of disabilities, visit Social Security’s Faces and Facts of Disability web page at www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityfacts. There you’ll also discover how Social Security is protecting America’s workers.

Almost 60 years ago, Congress created Social Security disability insurance so that workers and their families would have something to fall back on if disability struck unexpectedly. This program operates just like any other insurance policy, with workers and employers paying the premiums through taxes on workers’ earnings.

Today, workers can feel secure knowing they have paid into the system in case they ever need to file a disability insurance claim. Although Social Security disability insurance benefits are modest—less than $1,200 a month on average—they help with basic needs. For thousands living with severe disabilities, Social Security is their sole source of income.

Many people believe that qualifying for Social Security disability is easy, but that isn’t true. Our statutory definition of disability is very strict. Before we can approve your claim, we need substantiated evidence that your impairment is likely to last at least a year or result in death, and that it keeps you from doing your past work or any other type of work based on your age, education, and past work experience.

While stroke and heart disease are among the most common disabling conditions, as well as the most deadly, they are often preventable. “Although heart disease and stroke account for the vast majority of deaths each year in America,” says the American Stroke Association’s website, “there are things you can do to lessen your risk.” You can decrease your risk of developing these conditions by eating a healthy diet, using up as many calories as you take in, exercising every day, managing your blood pressure, and not smoking. To learn more, visit the American Stroke Association at www.strokeassociation.org.

Taking care of your heart is one of the best ways to avoid falling victim to a stroke or other serious disease. But it can be a comfort to know there’s an insurance plan in place in case a severe injury or disease cuts your work life short. As you explore the Faces and Facts of Disability at www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityfacts, you’ll meet some of the people living with severe disabilities who would be facing even greater difficulties if not for the safety net provided by Social Security.

SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY BENEFICIARIES AMONG THE MOST SEVERELY IMPAIRED IN THE WORLD

The United States has some of the most rigorous eligibility requirements in the world for disability benefits, according to a 2010 report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The Sickness, Disability and Work: Breaking the Barriers—A Synthesis of Findings Across OECD Countries finds that the United States has the most rigid definition for disability and the shortest benefit payment duration.

The Social Security Act sets out a very strict definition of disability. To receive a disability benefit, a person must have an impairment expected to last at least one year or result in death. The impairment must be so severe the person is unable to perform any substantial work. Temporary or partial disability benefits are not available. Because the eligibility requirements are so strict, Social Security disability beneficiaries are among the most severely impaired people in the country and tend to have high death rates.

In addition, a periodic review of every beneficiary ensures each remains eligible. Social Security also aggressively works to prevent, detect and prosecute fraud. The Social Security Administration looks into suspicious disability claims before making a decision to award benefits—proactively stopping fraud before it happens. These steps ensure only eligible individuals have access to these benefits.

Americans place a high premium on self-sufficiency, but it is reassuring to know that Social Security disability insurance is there for those who need it the most. You can learn more about the personal stories of people who get disability benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityfacts.

WHAT EVERY YOUNG PERSON SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY BENEFITS

Disability can affect anyone at any time. That is a reality. The chances you will become disabled are probably far greater than you realize. According to government statistics, one in four 20-year-old Americans will likely become disabled before reaching age 67.

How prepared are young Americans for that possibility? The New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants believes that most people are not prepared. "While some people have the financial resources to fund a disability on their own," the group stresses in its online publication The CPA Journal, "most need disability income insurance to cover the risk."

The Society of Actuaries (SOA) agrees. In Disability Insurance: A Missing Piece in the Financial Security Puzzle, the SOA concludes that most people seriously misjudge:

  • Their risk of becoming disabled;
  • Their financial capacity to weather a disabling illness or injury; and
  • The ability of Social Security disability benefits to fully address their needs.

This raises the question: Exactly how much help can you expect from Social Security if you become disabled? Social Security is insurance coverage workers earn and can count on if a disabling condition forces them to stop working. Social Security disability payments are modest and allow people with severe disabilities to attend to their basic needs and pay for life-sustaining medications. If you qualify, you can receive a monthly disability benefit from Social Security for as long as your disability prevents you from working.

Many young people spend a great deal of time working to succeed in their jobs and careers. Few think about building a safety net to catch them if they become disabled. Now is always the best time to prepare for future challenges. And knowledge is our first line of defense.

Social Security can provide invaluable help. Take a moment out of your day to visit Social Security's Disability Planner at www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/disability/ to learn more about Social Security protection if you become disabled. Then, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityfacts for personal stories about how Social Security disability benefits make a tremendous difference.