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Beth's Corner

Beth was a practicing psychologist for twenty-five years, specialing in chronic pain patients until she retired and filed for disability in 2008. Beth received her on the job training when helping the victims of hurricane Andrew. After filling her days rescuing dogs and making jewelry she decided it was time to continue her quest to help chronic pain patients. Her goal is to stay out off of the streets and out of the pool halls! We were extremely fortunate that her journey led her to the Fibromyalgia Community.

Familiar with the process and the paperwork, she volunteered to take your questions and help you with the emotional impact of giving up a career.

Read our FAQ section for answers to the most common questions. If you have a specific question about how to file, the process or the emotional aspect of the journey send Beth an e-mail.

SEND BETH A QUESTION

FAQ

~ What type of benefits can I apply for?

There are two kinds of benefits available in the U.S. Social Security Disability. You could qualify for this benefit if you have worked in the past and paid social security taxes. If you have worked anytime in the previous 10 years you qualify. This is money you would normally receive when you retire. If you are injured or stricken with disease, and can no longer work you are eligible. To qualify one must be totally disabled, unable to continue working in your current profession.  You must have a medical professional state you are incapacitated, that you are unable to work for wages you need to survive.

Social Security has a list of jobs for folks who they feel can do something.  For example, can you take tickets in a movie theatre; stuff dolls in a factory. It does not seem to matter whether or not that kind of job is available where you live. For example, if you live in Miami every job requires that you be bilingual. We do not have a doll making factory here. That does not matter. You can be denied based on the fact that you can still work and support yourself.  I read on one site about a dentist who was denied benefits because his injury only restricted him from practicing his profession.  It was felt that he could move furniture, take tickets in a movie theater, clean toilets, etc.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a whole other matter.  This benefit is available to disabled people who make less than a set amount, including social security benefits they may have earned.  You are not required to pay into it, but you must apply and qualify to receive it. Requirements are pretty strict for this. Social Security will pre qualify you for this on the web site. You fill out a questionnaire and they will send you results as to the likelihood that you could be eligible for it.  This can be helpful in saving time for both of you.

~How long does the process take?

The short answer to this question is that it takes anywhere from a few weeks (if you are blind, terminal, or have one leg) to 3 years or longer (if you are persistent in your appeals. 60% of people get rejected the first time, don't give up.

The long answer to the "how long?" question is that you have some ability to speed it up if your answers are complete and supported by medical evidence (ie., you have been seeing at least two doctors regularly; you have been taking medication or other treatment if it was recommended; and if your doctors believe you cannot work.).  Other factors include how overwhelmed your case worker and medical reviewers are. Everybody at Social Security has a backlog from what I have been led to understand. They are seriously understaffed. Your case worker may have completed your file but it can sit for weeks waiting for one of their medical reviewers to get to it and make the final decision.

I tried to prepare myself psychologically for a long haul in which I would be unaware of where I was in the process.You can apply online (which I did) or make an appointment and be interviewed.   You may want to see how long it takes to get an appointment for an interview.  I felt that my information would be more accurate and complete if I gave myself some time to write and review my application, so I did it online. I started logging on to the Social Security web site in November 2008.  I completed it in May of the following year (09). It would have been faster, but my best friend was going through major cancer surgeries so I was pretty distracted.

Online applications require that you supply names, addresses and phone numbers of your treating physicians. They ask when you last saw the doctor and when your next appointment will be. I have never been a good record keeper, but I did go to a doctor at least once a week. I had fibromyalgia, herniated discs in neck and low back, chronic headaches, TMJ, Interstitial Cystitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, chronic insomnia, anxiety and depression.

If you have a lot of doctors it may take some time for them to send records to Social Security to substantiate your case. I know of one person with a disabled daughter. She got all the notes from the doctors herself and presented everything at the interview in an indexed spiral notebook. Her daughter was denied 6 weeks later due to certain reasons.  She immediately appealed, pointing out some records that invalidated their objection.  Her daughter received benefits six weeks later. Having been a psychologist I was familiar with record keeping (although I was always truly bad at it). Fortunately I did keep a date book and my doctors kept records so between the two I was able to construct a pretty good record.

 ~ Do I need a lawyer? 

If you are not confident in your ability to provide compelling information on your application you should add a lawyer to your team. Disability lawyers are paid out of your settlement, an upfront fee is not required. 

~What if my doctor refuses to help with the paperwork? 

Actually there is very little paperwork that doctors have to fill out. Usually their offices just send records. It is very important to be sure that your doctor believes you are disabled and documents that in your records. That is how you build your case.  If your doctor is refusing paperwork it may be because he or she does not believe that you qualify.  You need to have a serious talk before you start your application,  You may want to start seeing a doctor who feels more strongly that you should stop working.

When medical records do not document a disabling condition  Social Security may request and independent medical examination.  If so, you will be referred to a doctor contracted by Social Security to evaluate your eligibility for benefits.  That physician reports as to whether or not you are disabled base on a brief examination and history.  If you can make a case for your disability by having had medical treatment over time you stand a much better chance of succeeding

.~How do I know if I qualify?

You can find out what these are if you go to SSA.gov and search for the section that explains what medical conditions qualify you for disability benefits. If your condition prevents you from working, yet does not show up on this list, consult your doctor and an attorney for help in writing a proposal that will help you. Do not just give up.

~Will I have to go to court? 

There are several levels of appeals. Some you can deal with yourself as my friend did. I would not go before a judge without an attorney. Remember that this should not cost you anything because your lawyer will take a percentage of your settlement. By the time you get to the hearing stage you will probably need  professional advice.  

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