Social Security column/Karyl Richson
By Karyl Richson
Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in Milwaukee, WI


Here’s some important news if you’re applying for Social Security disability benefits for yourself or a loved one.  There are 100
conditions which qualify for an expedited process known as Compassionate Allowances.

Compassionate Allowances, which began in December 2007, are a way to quickly identify diseases and other medical
conditions that, by definition, meet Social Security’s standards for disability benefits.

“We have an obligation to award benefits quickly to people whose medical conditions are so serious they clearly meet our
disability standards,” said Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security. “We are now able to do precisely that for 100
severe conditions.”

The Compassionate Allowances conditions are developed from information received at public outreach hearings, and from the
Social Security and Disability Determination Service communities, medical and scientific experts, and the National Institutes of
Health. We also consider which conditions are most likely to meet our definition of disability.

“By definition, these illnesses are so severe that we don’t need to fully develop the applicant’s work history to make a decision,”
said Commissioner Astrue. “As a result, Social Security has eliminated this part of the application process for people who have
a condition on the list, and we can award benefits much more quickly.”

The Compassionate Allowances initiative is one of two parts of the agency’s fast-track system for certain disability claims. When
combined with the Quick Disability Determination (QDD) process, Social Security last year approved the claims of more than
100,000 people, usually in less than two weeks. This year, the agency expects to fast-track nearly 150,000 cases. Under QDD, a
predictive model analyzes specific elements of data within the electronic claims file to identify claims where there is a high
potential the claimant is disabled and where evidence of the person’s allegations can be quickly and easily obtained.
For more information on Compassionate Allowances, including a list of all 100 conditions, visit

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You’ll probably be passing out treats to costumed hobgoblins and ghosts in your neighborhood this Halloween night. But be
cautious that you’re not tricked by a different kind of trickster looking for a handout, such as your personal information.

You should always safeguard your personal information such as date of birth, mother’s maiden name, and your Social Security
number. Why? Because it’s that type of information identity thieves are after.  

You may think you’re safe simply by not carrying your Social Security card with you and not providing your personal information
over the Internet or by e-mail. But scam artists have become tricky. Never reply to an e-mail claiming to be from Social Security
and asking for your Social Security number or personal information.

Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in America. If you think you’ve been the victim of an identity thief, you should
contact the Federal Trade Commission at Or you can call 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-
4338); TTY 1-866-653-4261.

Another trick: Some people who receive Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are victimized by
misleading advertisers. Often, these companies offer Social Security services for a fee, even though the same services are
available directly from Social Security free of charge. These services include getting a:
•        Corrected Social Security card showing a bride’s married name;
•        Social Security card to replace a lost card; and
•        Social Security number for a child.
If you receive or see what you believe is misleading advertising for Social Security services, send the complete mailing,
including the envelope, to: Office of the Inspector General, Fraud Hotline, Social Security Administration, P.O. Box 17768,
Baltimore, MD 21235. If you see misleading advertising online, you can report this information online at
gov/oig/guidelin.htm. Also, advise your State’s attorney general or consumer affairs office and the Better Business Bureau.
Learn more about identity theft at Read about misleading advertising at

Enjoy the treats of the season, but be cautious of tricksters trying to steal more than a sack of candy. The results of becoming the
victim of identity theft can be horrifying. Protect your identifying information.

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It’s that time of year again.

“Open season” is right around the corner for the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. Hunting down the best plan for you is no
game. Newly eligible Medicare beneficiaries, and current beneficiaries who are considering changes to their Medicare Part D
plan, should mark their calendars for October 15. The “open season” will run from October 15 to December 7.

The Medicare Part D prescription drug program is available to all Medicare beneficiaries to help with the costs of medications.
Joining a Medicare prescription drug plan is voluntary, and participants pay an additional monthly premium for the coverage.
While all Medicare beneficiaries can participate in the prescription drug program, some people with limited income and
resources also are eligible for “Extra Help” to pay for monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and prescription co-payments. The
Extra Help is worth about $4,000 a year.

To figure out whether you are eligible for the Extra Help, Social Security needs to know your income and the value of any savings,
investments, and real estate (other than the home you live in). To qualify, you must be receiving Medicare and have:
•        Income not over $16,335 for an individual or $22,065 for a married couple living together. Even if your annual income is
higher, you still may be able to get some help with monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and prescription co-payments. Some
examples where your income may be higher include if you or your spouse:
      —Support other family members who live with you;
      —Have earnings from work; or
      —Live in Alaska or Hawaii; and
•        Resources not over $12,640 for an individual or $25,260 for a married couple living together. Resources include such
things as bank accounts, stocks, and bonds. We do not count your house or car as resources.

You can complete an easy-to-use online application for Extra Help at Go to the Medicare tab on the top
of the page. Then go to “Apply For Extra Help With Medicare Prescription Plan Costs.” To apply for the Extra Help by phone or
have an application mailed to you, call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and ask for the Application for
Extra Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs (SSA-1020).

And if you would like more information about the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Program itself, visit or
call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227; TTY 1-877-486-2048).

So this open season (October 15 to December 7), after you track down the perfect prescription drug plan for you, hunt for
something that could put about $4,000 in your pocket — bag the best Medicare prescription drug plan for you and see if you
qualify for the Extra Help through Social Security.

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Many people enjoy watching the changing seasons, and in many parts of the country we find ourselves at that time of the year
when the shifting from one season to another seems most enjoyable. In many parts of the country, the lush green foliage
gradually fades to an autumn rainbow of yellow-orange-red-brown. Cool air brings light jackets out of closets. Pumpkins and
decorative corn begin to appear on porches and doorsteps.

But seasons are not the only things that change. When it comes to some changes, we at Social Security need to know about
If you receive Social Security benefits, there are certain things that we need to know about you in order to continue paying
your benefit
s. Here is a reminder of some of the most important reporting responsibilities for people who receive Social Security
or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Your address. Even if you receive your payments by direct deposit or debit card (as most people do), we still need a good
mailing address so we can get in touch with you when we need to. You can inform us of a change of address, as well as
telephone number, at our website,
Your direct deposit information. If your payments go to your financial institution for direct deposit, you need to notify us of any
changes. If you change your account information without letting us know, your payment could go to the wrong place. You can
change your deposit information at our website,
Your work, if disabled. If you receive disability benefits, we need to know about any work you do. If you start work, stop work, or
have any change in your work, hours, or pay, we need to know.
Your living arrangements, if you receive SSI. People who receive SSI are paid, in part, based on financial need. Payments may
change based on your living arrangements.
Because of that, we need to know how many people are in your household and how
the expenses are shared. There are other things we need to know about, such as if you’re institutionalized, if you’re no longer
able to handle your finances, or if you’ve been convicted of a crime.

Learn more about reporting responsibilities for people receiving retirement or survivors benefits at

Learn more about reporting responsibilities for people receiving Social Security disability benefits at

Learn more about reporting responsibilities for people receiving SSI at

Some changes can be reported online at You can report changes to us by calling 1-800-772-1213 (TTY
1-800-325-0778) or contacting your local office.

Seasons change; there’s little to report there. But when it comes to changes in the lives of people who receive benefits from
Social Security, please remember to keep us informed.

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Different people have different fears, and often Halloween seems to be a time to talk about them. Children may be afraid of
monsters in the closet or creatures lurking beneath the bed. Teenagers may fear not fitting in with the popular crowd.

There’s something else that needlessly frightens some people: doing business online with Social Security. But the good news
is that those fears should be just as unwarranted as being afraid of children in costumes.

There are a number of things you can do online at, and none of them should send so much as a shiver
down your spine. Save yourself a trip to a Social Security office and transact your business from your home or office computer.
There’s no need to be afraid to go online because it’s so easy to do business at

Here are just a few of Social Security’s online services you can take advantage of with ease from the convenience of your home
or office computer:
•        Apply for retirement, disability, or Medicare benefits;
•        Find out what benefits you might be eligible to receive;
•        Apply for Extra Help with your Medicare prescription drug costs;
•        Estimate your future benefits;
•        Appeal an unfavorable decision on a disability claim;
•        Change your address; and
•        Report employee wages.

For a complete list of our online services, visit You also can find forms, publications,
answers to frequently asked questions, Social Security news, and much more at  

You’ll find our online services are frighteningly easy to use.  Don’t be afraid to visit

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How do I update or correct the name on my Social Security card?
To update or correct the name on your Social Security card:
•        Complete an Application for A Social Security Card (Form SS-5), available at;
•        Show us original documents proving your legal name change, identity, and U.S. citizenship (if you have not already
established your citizenship with us), or immigration status if you are not a U.S. citizen; and
•        Take or mail your completed application and original documents to your local Social Security office. Note that we must see
originals and cannot use photocopies. We will return any original document you mail to us.
Learn more at

How do I report a lost Social Security card?
You do not have to report a lost Social Security card. In fact, reporting a lost or stolen card to Social Security will not prevent
misuse of your Social Security number. You should let us know if someone is using your number to work (call 1-800-772-1213;
TTY 1-800-325-0778).

If you think someone is using your number, there are several other actions you should take:
•        Contact the Federal Trade Commission online at or call 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-
•        File an online complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center at;
•        Contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit by calling 1-800-908-4490, Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.; and
•        Monitor your credit report.

I work in retirement.  How much can I earn and still collect full Social Security retirement benefits?
Social Security uses the formulas below, depending on your age, to determine how much you can earn before we must reduce
your benefit:
•        If you are younger than full retirement age: $1 in benefits will be deducted for each $2 you earn above the annual limit. For
2011, that limit is $14,160.
•        In the year you reach your full retirement age: $1 in benefits will be deducted for each $3 you earn above a different limit, but
we count only earnings before the month you reach full retirement age. For 2011, this limit is $37,680.
•        Starting with the month you reach full retirement age: you will get your benefits with no limit on your earnings.
Find out your full retirement age at

Do I have to pay income tax on my Social Security benefits?
It depends. Fewer than one-third of our current beneficiaries pay income taxes on their benefits. You will have to pay Federal
income taxes on your benefits if you file an individual Federal income tax return and your total income is more than $25,000. If
you file a joint return, you will have to pay income taxes if you and your spouse have total income of more than $32,000.
For more information, call the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) toll-free at 1-800-829-3676 and ask for IRS Publication 915, Social
Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits, People who are deaf or hard of
hearing may call the IRS toll-free number, 1-800-829-4059.

I am receiving Social Security disability benefits. Will my benefits be affected if I work and earn money?
We offer work incentives that can help you keep your benefits while you test your ability to work. For example, there is a trial work
period during which you can receive full benefits regardless of how much you earn, as long as you report your work activity and
continue to have a disabling impairment.
For more information about work incentives, we recommend that you read Working While Disabled—How We Can Help. You’ll
find it online at

Is there a time limit on Social Security disability benefits?
Your disability benefits will continue as long as your medical condition has not improved and you cannot work. We will review
your case at regular intervals to make sure you are still disabled. If you are still receiving disability benefits when you reach full
retirement age, we will convert those benefits to retirement benefits.

How much will I receive if I qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits?
The amount of your SSI benefit depends on where you live and how much income you have. The maximum SSI payment varies
nationwide. The maximum Federal SSI payment for an eligible individual is $674 a month and $1,011 a month for an eligible
couple. However, many States add money to the basic payment. For more information, go to  

My child is disabled. Can she qualify for Supplemental Security Income?
SSI makes monthly payments to people with limited income and resources who are 65 or older, or blind, or disabled. Your child
younger than age 18 can qualify if he or she meets Social Security’s definition of disability for children, and if his or her income
and resources fall within the eligibility limits. We also consider the income and resources of family members living in the child’s
household. For more information, call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or visit  

What are the four parts of Medicare?
There are four parts to Medicare.
•        Hospital insurance (Part A) helps pay hospital bills and some follow-up care. The taxes you paid while you were working
financed this coverage, so, for most people, it’s premium free.
•        Medical insurance (Part B) helps pay doctors’ bills and other services. You must pay a monthly premium for Medicare Part
B and you have the option to refuse this coverage.
•        Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans generally cover many of the same benefits a Medigap policy would cover, such as extra
days in the hospital after you have used the number of days Medicare covers. People with Medicare Parts A and B can choose to
receive all of their health care services through one of these provider organizations under Part C. There might be additional
premiums required for some plans; and
•        Prescription drug coverage (Part D) helps pay for medications doctors prescribe for treatment. Anyone who has Medicare
hospital insurance (Part A), medical insurance (Part B), or a Medicare Advantage plan (Part C) is eligible for prescription drug
coverage (Part D). Joining a Medicare prescription drug plan is voluntary and you pay an additional monthly premium for the
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