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What happens if you become disabled and can't work after age 50?

Many people work their entire lives without encountering an illness or injury serious enough to keep them from being able to work for a year or longer. Unfortunately, the chance of suffering a disabling condition grows increasingly greater as we age. Unfortunately, the real-life consequences of a disability may, as well. At age 50, many people are in their most productive and highest-earning years, but many are also contributing simultaneously to launching their children's lives and to supporting older relatives.

Say you're 50 or 55. If you suffer a catastrophic injury or receive a serious diagnosis, you could suddenly find yourself unable to perform the work you've been doing your whole career. The cumulative effects of decades' worth of injuries and stress could finally reach the point where you can't work. What do you do now?

You may have looked into applying Social Security disability, only to find that you don't seem to meet all of the medical criteria. Don't give up.

The Social Security Administration has good news for you -- it recognizes that older workers face different challenges than younger people, and it makes special allowances.

For example, suppose you're a 53-year-old industrial worker with a high school education. You've suffered an injury, and now you can't perform the heavy labor you've always done -- or even light duty, and your doctor says you won't be able to for at least a year. At the same time, you're not qualified for a desk job.

You may have been told you don't strictly meet the SSA's criteria for disability -- but that might not be the case. In fact, the SSA has a special vocational allowance in place for people applying for Social Security disability at age 50 or older. It offers even more allowances for applicants aged 55 and older.

The truth is, workers just like you can still get benefits based on a combination of factors, not just a disability that fits neatly within the SSA's lists and grids. In part, whether you qualify is based on your age, education, and work history in addition to your medical condition.

If you're over 50 and facing a medical condition that will keep you from working long-term, be sure to discuss your situation with an attorney who focuses on disability law. An in-depth understanding of the medical and technical rules for Social Security disability can make a real difference.

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Abromson & Carey
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