In addition to providing disability benefits to a person who previously worked, but who has been unable to work, or is expected to be unable to work for a year or more due to a physical or mental impairment, the Social Security Administration (SSA) also provides benefits to a person who is disabled and whose deceased spouse worked before passing away. Generally, a person may be eligible for widow/widower benefits where: a) the widow or widower is between ages 50 and 60; b) the widow or widower meets the definition of disability for adults; and 3) the disability started before or within seven years of the working spouse's death.
In Parker v. Astrue, the District Court for the Southern District of Ohio explains that the SSA and its judges use the same standard for determining a widow's benefits claimant's disability as they do in considering other disability benefits claims.
Plaintiff Elizabeth Parker filed a claim for disabled widow's benefits following the death of her husband, asserting that she is disabled due to herniated discs in her lower back, fibromyalgia, arthritis, plantar fasciitis, pain, anxiety and depression. The SSA denied the claim and Plaintiff subsequently appeared at two administrative hearings before an SSA Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing a limited range of sedentary work, including jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, and therefore not disabled for benefits purposes.
The District Court reversed the ALJ's decision on appeal, finding that the ALJ improperly ignored a consulting physician's conclusion that Plaintiff is unable to perform manual tasks that require the frequent lifting or carrying of materials due to her various physical impairments. Dr. Aivars Vitols, an orthopedic surgeon who examined Plaintiff upon the ALJ's request in 2009, indicated that Plaintiff could occasionally carry up to ten pounds and occasionally lift up to twenty pounds, but that she could not frequently lift or carry any amount of weight. Yet, the court noted, "[t]he ALJ did not explain why he disregarded the 'no frequent lifting' restriction while accepting all the other limitations proposed by Dr. Vitols. This restriction, according to the court, "would have mandated a finding of 'disability.'" As a result, the court remanded the case to the ALJ for rehearing.
In 2008, more than 230,000 disabled widows and widowers received Social Security disability benefits. The spouse and children of a living, disabled worker may also be eligible for benefits. In order to obtain disability benefits, a person must submit a claim to the SSA, starting what is often a long and complicated claims process. The SSA initially denies roughly 65 percent of claims filed, including many with merit.
An experienced Social Security disability attorney can assist a client in the claims process by helping to gather the evidence - medical and employment records, etc. - necessary to prove the claim, filing the claim on the client's behalf and following up with the SSA to ensure that its staff has everything it needs to decide on the claim. Unlike a so-called "claim representative," the lawyer can also represent the client on appeal in federal court, if necessary.
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