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Do workers with chronic illnesses want to work as long as possible?

There is a common belief that people who are applying for Social Security Disability have been in a work, automobile or some other type of accident where they become disabled and can no longer work,” said Courtney Quinn, attorney, Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys, PLLC. “In our experience, that is not always the case.  The majority of our clients work for many years with chronic illnesses and only apply for SSD as a last resort.  A recent study shows this is indeed what happens.”

The study, performed by Jackson Costa with the Office of Program Development; Office of Research, Demonstration, and Employment Support; Office of Retirement and Disability Policy of the Social Security Administration, showed SSD applicantsearnings stay steady for years, then drop off significantly in the years before they stop working. The length of this decline depends on the claimant’s condition and age, among other factors.

“The reality is, many claimants work for years after they have been diagnosed with a progressive illness such as diabetes, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal or another chronic disease,” Quinn said.  “These individuals work through ever-increasing pain and illness, with corresponding decreases in earnings, often for a very long time.”

Frequently, clients who come to the Freedman firm and are applying for SSD benefits have tried part time work, had short periods of time off work, have requested accommodations from their employers, or have taken less strenuous, lower-paying positions to attempt to continue working. They are able to continue earning, but their income drops to a level much lower than it was prior to them becoming ill.

“Older workers (ages 50-55) in the study showed a decline period of almost two years longer than those in the 26- to 29- year age group,” Quinn said. “Since it would be expected that workers in the 26- to 29-year group are not dealing with progressive illnesses like arthritis or Type 2 Diabetes, it makes sense the decline period would be shorter. Most likely the impairments they have suffered have been caused by trauma such as a work injury or accident.”

Looking at these trends, the author of the report will give recommendations for the Social Security Administration and other agencies to help workers who are ill or injured by establishing accommodations that could keep them working and earning sufficient income to meet basic needs.

“As the study shows — and judging from the clients we see — the vast majority of people prefer to work as long as possible even when they are suffering from a chronic disease,” Quinn said. “It would be great if the SSA could set guidelines for employers to help these people work as comfortably as possible for as long as they can.”