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Disabled Adult Child’s Benefits
The next benefit type we’ll be looking at is Disabled Adult Child Benefits. Even the title of this sounds complicated. How can you be an adult and a child at the same time? Simply put, this program is designed for adults who became disabled when they were still children. They became disabled before they could work enough to earn credits for retirement and/or disability.
Let’s take the most common condition for Disabled Adult Child benefits. We all know friends who have had children born with a birth defect. These children are often unable to fully develop or to be trained for adult jobs. The Adult Child program was designed to be a benevolent program covering many such situations. The child can take benefits under his mother’s or father’s earnings record even after he or she turns 18.
Let’s give an example. Let’s say that Jennifer was born with significant birth defects. When her parents were working, they were able to support her. But when her mom became disabled, Jennifer, as a dependent child of a disabled worker, would receive her own benefits until she got to be 18 or out of high school. But since she could also prove that her own disability began before age 22 – it began at birth – and since she hasn’t worked and isn’t married Jennifer could receive benefits as an adult child, that is, an adult whose disability began early in life.
What makes this program somewhat complicated is that for the disabled adult child – that is, an adult whose disability began before they were 22 – to become eligible to receive benefits, one of their parents must retire or become disabled as well. In other words, a disabled adult child, who became disabled before age 22, may not be able to apply for benefits until he or she is in his 40s because that is when the parent first retires. This means, of course, that the adult child then has to prove disability since age 22. That’s not so easy. Moreover, it must be an unbroken period of disability; that is, it’s not enough to merely have a physical or mental problem since adolescence, but you must have been continuously disabled since then. Is this hard to prove? You bet.
Many disabled adult children want very badly to work. Sadly, their attempts at working may earn them just enough credits of coverage to make them ineligible for benefits. Why? Because they cannot prove they have been “continuously” disabled since before age 22. These are cases that are very difficult to prove but it can be done.
We often recommend that people who are under 22 who are severely disabled apply for benefits under the SSI program even if financially they are not eligible. For example, I have recommended that children with trust funds set up by well-to-do parents apply for SSI at age 22. The reason for this is not that they are going to get any money – their trust fund precludes them from getting money under SSI, but it proves disability began before age 22, so that when the parent retires 20 or 30 years later, there is no necessity to prove disability began back then. Even if you receive no money, you’ve proven disability when the records are readily available. Another example of how having a good lawyer or advocate can make all the difference in your case.
Disabled Adult Child: An Interesting Case
One of my favorite cases that we ever handled was a case involving a woman in a nursing home at age 70 who was applying for adult child’s benefits. She had to prove that she was disabled when she was 22 years old. He had never been able to work. She was born in 1913, which means her disability had to be proven before 1935. I handled this case in the early 80s. which means we were searching for records back 50 years. The Social Security Act was not passed until 1936. The disability program was signed into law in the 1950s. So we had to prove a disability beginning in 1935 for a 70-year-old woman in a nursing home under a program that was established in the mid-50s. The Social Security Act was not passed until the year following the date we had to prove her disabled!
It would be nice to say that this person had been in treatment for 55 years with one doctor who was still alive, but that was not so. She had outlived most of her doctors, and their records were completely lost. Can you imagine trying to find records of your pediatrician who last saw you in 1935? The doctor was long since deceased; in this case the doctor who took over his practice was even long since deceased. The only real consistent medical proof we had was for the last 15 years or so. For the last 15 years, we had a treating psychiatrist who specialized in geriatric cases.
What we did have, thought was a long history of hospitalizations. Fortunately for her case, my client had been admitted to psychiatric hospitals involuntarily by court order. The court records were traceable. The psychiatric records were found in the court files and they made reference to other psychiatric admissions, some of which were available on microfilm. The hardest thing we had to do was find someone who could translate the microfilm to paper so it could be read. But we got hospital records back to her childhood and then found at least one major hospitalization each decade with some extending for six months at a time. The claimant’s current treating psychiatrist was able to say that the condition he was treating her for currently was the same one that had been diagnosed in the 1930s, and therefore he was able to say she was disabled since childhood.
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