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Suffering Irreversible Vision Loss? What Should You Know About Benefits For Blind Americans?

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Being diagnosed with a degenerative retinal disorder can be a frightening experience -- especially for those in the midst of their prime working years. Adjusting to the physical and logistical challenges that come with partial to total vision loss after decades of clear vision can be tough, and adding additional vision and health-related expenses at a time when your ability to earn an income could be at risk is especially stressful. Fortunately, there are some benefits to which you may now be entitled that can help defray any additional expenses and provide you with a monthly income for the rest of your life. Read on to learn more about some of the disability and tax-related benefits available to those who suffer from vision loss.

Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income benefits

The federal government has designed two disability income programs to help support Americans with physical or mental ailments that make holding down a job impossible. Social Security Disability (SSD) is available to individuals who have spent a certain number of years in the paid workforce and have paid FICA taxes during that time. Like Social Security retirement benefits, SSD benefits are partially based on the amount of income you earned during your working years -- higher-paid workers generally receive a higher amount in benefits.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a subsistence-level income that will help provide the basics for those who have been disabled their entire adult lives or who haven't quite worked enough quarters to qualify for SSD benefits. Because this benefit is available to those who don't qualify for SSD, it's generally a much smaller amount than available for those who have paid FICA taxes for a number of years.

If your macular degeneration is serious enough to prevent you from driving to work, it's likely you'll be deemed disabled and can begin collecting SSD or SSI benefits after a short waiting period. However, the Social Security Administration has some special rules that can allow you to perform work from home (or off-site) and earn a small income without compromising your ability to collect disability benefits. As long as your income from "substantial gainful activity" (SGA) (as opposed to passive income like investments) is under $1,820 per month, you'll be able to continue to receive SSD benefits until your income exceeds this amount for a certain number of months. You may be able to order some transcription software or other enabling devices that will let you work from home and supplement your disability income without putting you at physical risk.

Tax savings

In addition to the provision of SSD and SSI benefits, the federal government has designed some tax incentives for blind Americans that can help lower your tax bill significantly. Some states that impose an income tax have also designed benefits for blind residents, but these can vary widely by area. You'll likely want to consult an accountant or professional tax preparer before filing your first income tax return after you've been deemed legally blind to ensure you receive all the deductions and credits to which you're entitled.

For filers who have some earned income but are still below the SGA threshold, filing a federal income tax return can provide you with a hefty refund thanks to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). For certain low-income filers, this could result in a net gain -- allowing you to collect more in tax refunds than you've paid in income tax. You'll also be able to deduct a larger amount than non-blind taxpayers as a standard deduction, or can choose to use your vision-related medical expenses to help you itemize your deductions for an even larger refund. 

For more information about using Social Security for your livelihood, contact an attorney such as J W Chalkley III PA.