7 Steps for Applying for Disability Benefits
I have been on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) since I was 35 (nearly half my life). At first, I felt guilty applying for benefits because my MS wasn't "that bad." But as my MS affected my ability to walk and to use my fingers, I had to face the reality that I could no longer perform my job as a teacher of the Deaf. Sadly, I had to admit that I was “disabled.” I had worked ever since I was 16 and during that time I had been paying into the "insurance fund" so I finally applied for SSDI.
If you have a work history, and are unable to work because of your disability, you may qualify for disability benefits. Here's a quick list for applying for disability benefits:
- Find a supportive doctor, one who knows and understands your condition well, who can and is willing to advocate on your behalf. Collect doctors' reports and documentation, making and keeping copies of EVERYTHING.
- Keep a log of who told you what. As you speak with doctors, nurses, support personnel and even Social Security staff, record who you spoke with, what was said. Be sure to document the date and even time of day.
- Ask your local support group for help and support. Entities such as the National MS Society, Parkinson’s Foundation, Arthritis Foundation, brain injury and veteran’s groups, etc. have local support groups to provide guidance; they may even help you fill out the forms. If you need assistance finding a support group near you, ask your local library or social services agency for suggestions.
- Be honest about your limitations (cognitive, sensory, and physical), as well as your symptoms. Don’t leave anything out or “sugar-coat” your problems. Remember, all the reviewer has to go on is what is on the forms; they cannot see your pain or your inability to think or move. Tell it like it is. Be honest.
- Don't be surprised if you're turned down the first time; most people are. Statistics say that nearly ¾ of all initial applications are denied benefits the first time.
- Appeal your decision if you are denied. Appeals are denied at an even higher rate than initial applications. So if you are denied, save yourself a lot of frustration by hiring an attorney who specializes in social security disability — every state has lawyers who represent people who have been denied disability benefits. Don’t worry about what an attorney will cost; it doesn’t cost you anything out of pocket to hire a lawyer. When you win your appeal and receive benefits, the lawyer receives a one-time payment (a percentage set by law) out of your disability benefit and you receive the rest. Your local support group or social service agency can help you find a lawyer to represent you, or do an Internet search or look in the phone book for names.
- Don’t give up!!! You may feel awful or be discouraged because you cannot work; life may be so hard physically and financially that you just want to forget the whole thing. But don’t! Like the old adage goes, you will find success if you “try, try again.”
Even if you don’t have a work history (a child or full time homemaker perhaps), you may still qualify; talk with your local support group or social service agency about what benefits you may qualify for.
Do you have a story about applying for disability benefits or additional tips to share? I’d like to hear about them. Email Shelley@MakingLifeEasier.com or start a conversation on my Blog at www.MakingLifeEasier.com.
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