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Taking Care of Mom and Dad: The Definition of Disability

Disability is a word loosely thrown around in different kinds of conversations. It means different things in different social and political arenas. What you may think is a disability may not be what the government thinks one is. The Social Security Administration defines the term disability differently than other government agencies do. Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or for short-term disability.

Social Security considers a person disabled if: 1) he or she can't do work that he or she did before; and 2) the agency decides that the person cannot adjust to other work because of his or her medical condition. If your parent finds some other kind of work and earns more than $700 a month, he or she probably won't qualify as disabled -- no matter how much he or she was making before the illness or injury.

This is a strict definition of disability. Social Security program rules assume that working families have access to other resources to provide support during periods of short-term disabilities, including accrued sick leave, workers' compensation, insurance and savings.

If you think you have a parent who is disabled, it's best to contact your local Social Security office and ask for help. It is the Social Security Administration that decides whether or not your mom or dad qualifies for benefits. And, if your parent is already past full retirement age, those benefits are automatically converted to retirement benefits.

Under certain circumstances, your parent's disability benefits can change based on his or her ability to go back to work or regain his or her health. The agency has work incentives that help people make the transition back to work. These include continued monthly benefits and Medicare coverage on a temporary basis.

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