Disabled Railroad Workers Are Eligible for Lifetime Benefits If They Are Unable to Work Because of Their Health Problems

You’ve enjoyed your railroad career, so the thought of filing for disability benefits might be even worse than your health problems. As much as you hate to admit it, your days as a railroad worker are over—but you can’t afford to support your family and yourself if you’re unable to work. What options are available?

Due to the hazards of railroad work, the Railroad Retirement Act was created to protect employees who could no longer perform their jobs. The act provides disability payments for railroaders who suffer total or occupational disabilities, but they must meet certain qualifications in order to be eligible.

Eligibility for Total Disability Benefits

Railroad employees who are permanently disabled can receive benefits. This benefit can be paid to workers at any age, provided they have:

Medical Evidence
A “totally disabled” employee must have medical proof that he or she has a permanent physical or mental impairment that prevents them from doing any regular work for gainful pay. This  condition can be considered permanent if it has lasted for at least 12 months, or is expected to last for at least 12 months or until the employee’s death.

Work Requirements
Employees must have performed at least 10 years (120 months) of creditable railroad service to collect total disability benefits.

Eligibility for Occupational Disability Benefits

In some cases, employees may be unable to perform their railroad duties, but they are able to do other types of work. These workers are considered occupationally disabled, since they typically will not earn as much money in their alternate employment as they could have earned as a railroader. Workers must meet the following requirements for an occupational disability to get payments:

Age and Work Record 
Occupational disability benefits can be paid at any age if the employee has worked in the railroad industry for at least 20 years (240 months). Employees who have worked for 10 years (120 months) of railroad service are paid benefits only after the worker reaches age 60.

Current Connection
In order to receive occupational disability, you must have worked in the railroad industry recently enough to qualify (also called a "current connection"). Employees who have worked for a railroad in at least 12 of the last 30 consecutive months before benefits approval will qualify; however, employees who have worked 12 months in an earlier 30-month period may still be approved if the employee did not have any other employment outside the railroad industry after his disability.

Regular Work
Benefits will also depend on the regular work an employee has done in the past. Generally speaking, a worker’s occupation is considered to be the job that he has performed for payment in more calendar months than any other work during the last five years. The amount of full or part-time work performed for a non-railroad employer is important, as it can break the current connection requirement.

Could I Qualify for Other Kinds of Disability Benefits?

The Railroad Retirement Act can also provide supplemental benefits to workers over age 60 who are already receiving railroad disability. The employee must meet work requirements, have a current connection, and have at least one month of rail service before October 1981 to qualify for these payments.

Our legal team can file your application or appeal, obtain all medical records and reports, to  get approval of your claim  as quickly as possible. Email us today at [email protected] to get started, or call us at (402) 933-5405 for a free evaluation of your claim.

Sean D. Cuddigan
SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska