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Social Security offers different options for disability, retirement

Q: My brother is 64 years old and in poor health even though he works full-time.  His doctors tell him to retire and apply for disability. Would Social Security or disability be best for him?

A: To be clear, retirement, survivors and disability benefits are all Social Security, just different parts. 

Social Security is more than retirement.

Your brother can learn about SSA disability at, and especially at the Disability Planner section for eligibility and application information.

Since the disability definition for Social Security is based on ability to work, not just health, it is unlikely that a disability application by your brother would be approved as long as he is working full-time, assuming no employer subsidy or special considerations that allow him to work.

The disability definition includes that a person cannot do the work that they did before and that they cannot adjust to other work because of their medical condition. 

In addition, the medical condition must have lasted or be expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

In general, in 2014 a person cannot be considered disabled if working with earnings averaging more than $1,070 a month.

Usually disability clients file for benefits after they stop working or have greatly reduced work activity.

The decision to file or not is up to the person.

Your brother has different Social Security options to consider when deciding what is best for him.

He can file application for Social Security disability or retirement.  Disability benefits are not reduced for age. Retirement benefits are reduced for age if started when the person is younger than full retirement age.

Since your brother is at least the minimum SSA retirement age of 62, another option available to him is to file for both disability and retirement benefits at the same time. The retirement would be reduced since he is younger than his full retirement age.

If he does this, reduced retirement could be paid while his disability application is pending. If disability is not approved, his reduced retirement would continue. If the disability application is approved, his ongoing benefit amount is reviewed and increased, although not to 100 percent.  Final amounts would depend on the number of months that he received reduced retirement and the disability start date.

Based in Grand Forks, Howard I. Kossover is the Social Security Public Affairs Specialist for North Dakota and western Minnesota.  Send general interest questions to him at Read his online articles at