Ask the Advisor: January 2021

Ask the Advisor: January 2021

My Husband Had a stroke at 62.  Would He Qualify For Social Security Disability?

Q:  My husband who is diabetic and has high blood pressure, underwent surgery for colon cancer in March of 2020.  He recovered and returned to work last summer.  Shortly thereafter he had a stroke.  He’s been unable to work and received short term disability benefits through his employer until coverage ended on December 31, 2020.  Will he qualify for Social Security disability now?  He will turn 63 in April 2021.  

A:  Your husband would need to apply for Social Security disability benefits to learn if his medical condition meets the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability.  But before getting started, it’s important to understand your choices, since your husband is also old enough to start Social Security retirement benefits.

The definition of disability under Social Security is different from other programs.  Social Security only pays benefits for total disability, and none are paid for partial or a short-term disability.  To determine if your husband is disabled, the Social Security Administration will examine the following:

  • Did your husband work in 2020?  If his earnings averaged more than $1,260 per month, he generally would not be considered disabled.
  • Is his condition “severe”?  Your husband’s medical condition must significantly limit his ability to do basic work— for at least 12 months.
  • Is his condition found on the Social Security Administration’s list of disabling conditions?  This is a list of medical conditions that the Social Security Administration considers so severe that it prevents a person from completing substantial gainful activity.
  • Can your husband do the work he did previously?  If he can, your husband would not qualify.
  • Can your husband do any other type of work?  Even if your husband can’t do the work he did in the past, the Social Security Administration will consider if there is other work he could do.

While disability benefits may pay slightly more than early retirement benefits at age 63, starting the disability application and determination process is an arduous, bureaucratic procedure that can take a long time before benefits actually start — sometimes years.  Many people find they must hire an attorney.  According to data from the Social Security Administration, only one quarter of applicants are determined eligible for disability benefits the first time they apply.  Filing an appeal has about 49% chance of succeeding, but the process can result in long waiting periods to be found eligible for benefits, which often takes more than two years.  By the time your husband might be found eligible for disability benefits, he may only receive them for a year or two before he would age into his full retirement benefit.

Thus, if you need to replace lost income right away, and you don’t have a lot of savings or other resources to finance a waiting period for benefits, your husband may be better off simply filing a claim now for Social Security retirement benefits.  While those benefits would be reduced due to starting benefits prior to his full retirement age, the application process is straightforward and can be accomplished easily online.  Benefits could be started on the effective date you choose.

In addition, should your husband improve and regain the ability to work, he would be allowed to earn $1,580/month in 2021 before his benefits would be temporarily reduced due to Social Security’s earnings restriction rules.  Under disability rules, your husband could not earn more than $1,310/month without losing eligibility for disability benefits altogether.  Should your husband continue to improve, he could earn more by the year he attains full retirement age.

You can learn more about Social Security disability benefits at  Find information about when to start retirement benefits here: