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There are 48.9 million disabled individuals in the United States with at least one type of physical or mental disability.
There are a wide range of disabilities, including both temporary conditions and permanent lifelong conditions. If you have a permanent disability, you may be entitled to certain kinds of benefits depending on the cause of your condition and the ways in which it impairs your ability to work. Note that the cause of a permanent disability does not necessarily need to be work related.
This guide to permanent disability benefits helps you understand some of the different sources of support available to you if your disability affects your ability to earn income and support yourself and your loved ones.
Workers' Compensation and Permanent Disability
Being defined as having a permanent disability is especially important if you are hoping to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. These are benefits available through an employer’s insurer if you sustained an injury while performing job duties or if performing your work tasks made you sick.
In most states, workers’ compensation insurance is required for the majority of employers. That means most companies must buy policies that offer workers benefits for on the job injuries. These benefits will cover you regardless of whether your employer was negligent in causing your disabling condition, as long as your injuries happened as a direct result of your work.
When you qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, you become eligible for ongoing income if you have a permanent disability—including full or partial disabilities. Here’s what you need to know.
Permanent Total Disability
Although each state sets its own workers’ compensation rules, there are many similarities from among them. Specifically, when you reach maximum medical improvement and a doctor determines your condition won’t improve in the future, you will be given an impairment rating if you have lingering health issues.
This impairment rating is intended to clarify how your condition will affect you on an ongoingnbasis. If your impairment rating is high enough or if you have sustained certain specific types of injuries, then you are considered to be permanently and totally disabled. Depending on your state’s rules, you may receive the classification of permanent total disability in some or all of the following situations:
- You’ve become paralyzed due to spinal cord damage
- You’ve experienced a serious traumatic brain injury
- You’ve lost multiple limbs and/or appendages
- You’ve suffered severe burns on a significant portion of your face or body
- You’ve become totally blind
These are just some of multiple examples of situations that are considered permanently and totally disabling conditions. If you have one serious injury or a combination of ailments that prevent you from working and significantly impair your lifestyle, there is a very high likelihood you will be classified as permanently and totally disabled.
If you meet the definition of permanent disability under your state’s rules, you may be entitled to receive ongoing workers’ compensation disability benefits. These are usually equal to a certain percentage of your income and are paid until a specific point in time, such as when you reach a designated age (for example, age 75 in Florida).
You could instead negotiate a lump sum settlement or a settlement involving a payment plan for a set period of time with your workers’ compensation insurer. A lump sum payment agreement is intended to compensate you for your permanent disability up front and all at once. If you accept a lump sum, your claim is fully resolved with no future payments.
Permanent Partial Disability
It is possible to experience a permanent disability that has an impact on your life and work abilities but that does not leave you totally disabled. In this case, you may be entitled to receive some partial permanent disability benefits, the amount of which could be based on:
- An assigned impairment rating specifying how impaired you are as a result of your disabilities.
- Loss of wages if you are unable to work to your full potential as a result of your injuries
- Loss of earning power if your impairment(s) will impact your ability to earn a living in the future
Some examples of the types of conditions that could result in permanent partial disability benefits include:
- Amputation of certain body parts
- Nerve damage
- Carpal tunnel
- Partial hearing loss
- Loss of vision in one eye
An experienced disability benefits lawyer can help you to understand if your condition entitles you to compensation for a permanent partial disability. Again, you could be offered a lump sum payment or a payment plan to settle your claim or could receive benefits for a certain number of weeks based on the severity of your injuries.
Social Security and Permanent Disability
Permanent disability matters for workers’ compensation, but workers’ comp benefits aren’t the only kind of benefits you could potentially be eligible for if you have a medical condition that will affect you over the long term.
The rules for Social Security Disability benefits (SSD benefits) do not require you to have a permanent disability in order to receive monthly payments. But, your condition must be severe and long-term. This means it must:
- Be terminal or has or will last at least a year.
- Be included on a list of impairments the Social Security Administration has created to identify medical issues that usually qualify someone for benefits. This list is commonly called the Blue Book and it also specifies symptoms you must exhibit to get benefits. If your condition isn’t listed, you’ll have to prove it is severe as those that are.
- Be unable to engage in substantial gainful activity, which means earning at least $1,470 in 2023 or a minimum of $2,460 if blind.
If you meet these requirements, you may be eligible for benefits that can continue up until you no longer meet the definition of disabled any more or until you become eligible for retirement benefits. You should be aware that you do not need a permanent disability to get this money—just a long-term one.
If you meet Social Security’s definition of disabled, you could potentially get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and/or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits depending on your situation.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Supplemental Security Income is one of two types of Social Security benefits available to individuals with disabilities who meet the above requirements.
These benefits are not just available to people with disabilities, though. Seniors 65 and over and people who are blind can get them as well, provided their household income is relatively low and they don’t have more than $2,000 in countable resources as an individual or $,3000 as a couple.
SSI benefits equal a specific amount each year, which is set by law (the maximum benefit is $914 per month in 2023, with benefits reduced if you have countable income from other sources). These benefits can continue indefinitely as long as financial need is available.
As mentioned, you don’t need to be permanently disabled to qualify as long as your condition has or will last for 12 months and meets the Social Security Administration’s definition of disabled.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is also a type of Social Security Disability benefits, but this is not a means-tested or need-based benefit. Anyone who has worked long enough (depending on their age at the time they become disabled) could potentially qualify.
You’ll need to meet the above requirements to be considered disabled but, as with SSI, if your condition is long-term, you are eligible for benefits even if your disability is not permanent. If your condition does improve and/or you can begin working again, you will eventually lose your SSDI benefits—but you can take part in a trial work period that allows you to slowly re-enter the workforce without jeopardizing your disability income.
Your SSDI benefits are based on average wages prior to becoming disabled. Like SSI benefits, this money can be available regardless of how you become disabled—your injury does not need to be work-related.
Getting Legal Help If You Have a Permanent Disability
If you have a permanent disability, you should talk with a workers’ compensation lawyer about your options. Your attorney can help you to navigate your state’s workers’ compensation system so you can prove you have a permanent disability that entitles you to benefits if you were hurt on the job. Your attorney can also help you get Social Security Disability benefits if you have a long-term disability even if it is not permanent.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is considered to be a permanent disability?
A permanent disability is an impairment that persists after you have been hurt and have reached maximum medical improvement. If you remain physically or mentally impaired by a health condition after a doctor determines your condition won’t improve any further, you have a permanent disability.
If your injury was work-related, you may be entitled to full or partial permanent disability benefits depending on the level of your continued impairment. You can also get Social Security Disability benefits if you have a qualifying long-term disability even if it is not permanent.
How do I know if my disability is permanent?
If you have a physical or mental impairment that medical professionals have determined is not going to improve, you have a permanent disability. In the workers’ compensation system, generally you are considered to have a permanent disability if a doctor has indicated you have reached maximum medical improvement but you still have ongoing health issues. Although state rules can vary, you will usually be assigned an impairment rating and given workers’ comp disability benefits based on that rating.
Does permanent disability mean forever?
Permanent disability generally refers to a disabling condition that will last the rest of your life. If you have a permanent disability, you may be entitled to ongoing workers’ compensation benefits based on your level of impairment and/or based on the impact of the disability on your earning power. These benefits could last indefinitely up to a certain age depending on your specific impairment and your state’s rules.