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National Disability Employment Awareness Month - Keys to a Secure and Comfortable Retirement

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Originally declared by the US Congress in 1988, the month raises awareness of both the employment needs and contributions of people with all types of disabilities.

According to the CDC, 61 million American adults live with a disability. Much like anyone else, these individuals deserve a comfortable and fulfilling retirement. While some disabilities might require extra care and medical costs, there’s no shortage of programs available to assist. In this article, we’ll look at some key factors involved in planning for retirement with a disability, and explore options to keep those plans on track.

Gaining Access to Benefits

While there are many programs designed to aid people with disabilities, most of them require an official determination of eligibility. Even though benefits like Social Security and Medicare are federally run, state agencies such as the Colorado Disability Determination Services are responsible for the eligibility process. If you’ve never applied before, it’s crucial to begin as soon as possible, as it sometimes takes several months to receive a decision.

If you were in the military - regardless of whether your disability is due to your service - working with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is also critical. Not only do they administer benefits and provide health care, but they also provide referrals for programs designed to assist both seniors and people with disabilities. 

Securing Your Finances

Financial security is the linchpin of any retirement plan. Whether your disability limits your work options, prevents you from working completely or cuts your career short, there are a variety of programs available to both replace and supplement your income:

  • Short-Term and Long-Term Disability Insurance - You can purchase this insurance either through your employer or a private plan, and it replaces your income if you’re unable to work due to a disability. While long-term disability insurance doesn’t provide retirement income, it can be a good option for people whose disabilities might worsen over time, preventing them from working.
  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) - Much like unemployment and Social Security, your work history and taxes paid determine your SSDI eligibility. If you worked long enough and are considered fully disabled by the social security administration, you’ll gain access to SSDI along with your disability benefits.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) - Unlike SSDI, age and income determine SSI eligibility. In some cases, you can qualify for both SSDI and SSI. The Social Security Administration will assist in figuring out which program(s) you’re eligible for.
  • VA Disability Compensation - If you were in the military and suffered an injury or illness that left you with lasting effects, you might be eligible for disability benefits. These are separate from your Social Security benefits, and your nearest VA office can help guide you through the process.

Meeting Your Health Care Needs

Ensuring you have access to health care is one of the most important parts of planning for retirement. Costs have been rising steadily for years, and while the Affordable Care Act (ACA) expanded access to insurance, it wasn’t a silver bullet.

This is especially true for people whose disabilities might require long-term care, as standard insurance plans don’t always cover it. The good news is that there are a variety of options and programs that you might be able to access.


When you think of Medicare, you think senior citizens, but people of all ages who have disabilities can qualify as well. Once you’ve received Social Security Disability benefits for 24 months, you automatically receive Medicare Parts A & B.


While Medicare is a federal program based on age and/or disability, Medicaid is state-run health coverage whose only determining factor is income. If you’re on a fixed income and not yet eligible for Medicare, applying to Colorado’s Medicaid program - Health First Colorado - is a great option.

ACA Marketplace

One of the most important aspects of the ACA was that insurance companies can’t deny coverage due to pre-existing conditions, such as disabilities. Private insurance plans can often be unreasonably expensive, but the Connect for Health Colorado marketplace has a variety of coverage options, as well as financial aid resources.

VA Health Care

As with VA Disability Benefits, health care is dependent on past service. But if you’re eligible, your coverage isn’t dependent on any applications or waiting periods.

Choosing a Retirement Lifestyle

Retirement is more than savings and health care. It’s a time to find fulfillment and enjoy a lifestyle of your choosing. Some people prefer to relax, read, and pursue hobbies, while others want to stay active and engaged. However you want to spend your time, it’s important to develop a plan that will allow you to enjoy your chosen path.

Here are a few popular ideas, and how they might impact your retirement planning:

  • Working or Starting a Business - Many people choose to work or start a business in retirement, both to stay active and earn some extra income. And there are a lot of great opportunities for people with disabilities. However, be aware that post-retirement jobs can affect your eligibility for benefits like SSI.
  • Volunteering - Volunteering is a great way to remain socially engaged and give something back to the community. Just make sure to follow a few simple guidelines, such as only working with accredited non-profits, to make sure you don’t affect your Social Security and/or disability benefits.
  • Going Back to School - Returning to school in retirement is more common than you might think. Whether you’re looking to finish a degree or learn more about your interests, there are programs to defray the costs and online options to improve accessibility.
  • Travel - There’s a vast world to explore, and retirement is the perfect time to do it. While some aspects might seem daunting, there are ways to fund travel with retirement savings and a few simple tricks to make it easier on yourself.

Putting It All Together

However you decide to spend your retirement years, it’s essential to stick to a long-term financial plan. You’ll need to map out your finances, choose the best health care option, and decide how you want to spend your next phase in life.

If you need help developing a roadmap, a fiduciary can help you along the way. Unlike many types of financial advisors, they must act in their clients’ best interests. So you can count on them to guide you down the path towards a happy and healthy retirement.

Want to be sure you’re setting yourself up for a secure future? Get a copy of Retirement Secrets to discover the keys to a comfortable and fulfilling retirement.

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