There’s a popular and ugly misconception that folks who have been found disabled under a Social Security disability benefits program are:
(c) disabled for life; and/or
(d) taking advantage of the system
Our social security disability clients are young and old, wealthy and homeless. And their “impairments” – the word that Social Security uses – include: Fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s, anxiety and depression, ischemic heart disease, degenerative disc disease, Lupus, cancer, asthma, chronic pulmonary obstructive disease, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, traumatic brain injury, HIV/AIDS and interstitial cystitis, to name just a few.
I’ve never met a client who would rather receive disability benefits than feel healthy and be able to work ! Many of my clients could and probably will do some kind of part-time work eventually. Very few of my clients could be described as elderly.
But unfortunately, the labels I described above discourage many people from even applying for disability benefits and that’s a shame. It’s a shame because disability benefits can serve as a bridge to carry a person from one phase of his or her life to the next phase. If you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness and it’s reached a stage where you cannot work at your occupation right now, at least not on a full-time basis, disability benefits can help you through to another phase you may well reach – a time when you discover other interests and skills that fit better with the reality of your illness and allow you to return to work.
If you’ve been injured and it’s lasted more than a year and shows no sign of getting better soon, disability benefits can help you through difficult times until you’re able to resume your past or new work. And yes, in some cases, when you are not likely to ever return to work, disability benefits are your right.
Consider this – President Harry Truman, no bleeding-heart liberal, said of Social Security disability:
“It has long been recognized as an inescapable obligation of a democratic society to provide for every individual some measure of basic protection from hardship and want caused by factors beyond his control.”
If you are eligible for Title II, the Social Security Disability Insurance program, it’s because you’ve worked consistently and, by the way, you’ve paid into the system every time you’ve received a paycheck. If the benefits you’re eligible for are under Title XVI, Supplemental Security Income, there’s no shame in that. You’re in good company with people who, for various reasons, don’t have enough of a work history for the Title II program. Maybe they are mothers who have raised kids rather than been in the workforce. Maybe they are too young to have amassed the necessary work history. Maybe they are veterans who suffered an injury in service and haven’t worked since then.
Probably you’ve heard that it’s a long and frustrating process. There’s some truth to that but not enough that you should fail to exercise your right to access these funds. The first step is to contact the Social Security Administration and apply. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers three ways for you to apply for Social Security disability benefits: by telephone (1-800-772-1213), in person at a local Social Security office, or online at www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability/.
If you get turned down the first time (and nearly two-thirds of applicants do), don’t give up. File an appeal within the time period allowed. Get a lawyer to help you. Keep trying until you get to the hearing stage because this is the stage when many folks finally get a positive decision. And keep seeing your doctor – the evidence of your regular visits and the relationship you are building with your doctor will prove invaluable when your hearing date finally arrives.
Remember that the Social Security disability program was set up for the situation you are facing. President Clinton said it best:
“Social Security. . . reflects some of our deepest values–the duties we owe to our parents, the duties we owe to each other when we’re differently situated in life, the duties we owe to our children and our grandchildren. Indeed, it reflects our determination to move forward across generations and across the income divides in our country, as one America.”– William J. Clinton, February 9, 1998
Cheryl Coon exclusively focuses her law practice on social security disability at all stages of the process, representing clients from Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver, Washington. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her law firm, Swanson Thomas and Coon, can be found at www.stc-law.com.
As this network’s coordinator, I work at making connections with local professionals who focus on topics and issues I hear about most frequently from the MLWT community. Recently, I received a comment recommending that I enlist the expertise of an attorney to contribute posts here regarding disability benefits. I have met with Cheryl personally, as I do with many of the local professionals I have as guests, and must say that between her professional experience in this arena and her personal experience getting through the health care maze and building a supportive community for parents before social media, I believe she will be a great resource here. As with any of my guests, please recognize that everyone must be their own best advocate and my guests are merely the people I wish to introduce to you~ not necessarily to endorse.