(UPDATE AT THE BOTTOM)
I thought I would write today about my experience with filing for Social Security Disability. It is not and easy task for many Americans. For some, the rare few, they are approved right away. Not in my case. After my being denied, I missed my appeal filing deadline because of illness and a friends death. Then, I had to reapply, get denied, appeal, denied again, appeal with an attorney and go to hearing.
So here is my experience with this so far, remember post this if you need to apply.
First a little back story in case you haven't read my first few posts.
After I realized I needed to quit working to focus on my health and achieved a clear and accurate diagnosis, I did just that. I accessed my savings, and knew I could live for about a year without a job. I had already been seeing a physician for 2 years about my getting bronchitis or pneumonia every 2 months. "It is because you smoke." That is all he ever said, then prescribed a Zpac and steroids. Obviously, that was not a good way to go about things.
So, I made MANY appointments and changed physicians twice. I needed a diagnosis. A real one. I had no time to play around with my health like this!
When the diagnosis came in of Stage III COPD I was floored.
How will I cover my expenses?
How will I provide for the baby I just had?
Will I ever be able to work again?
Am I dying????
WHAT DO I DO!!!
Well, you get as much documentation on your illness as possible. Keep a list of all attacks, breathless days, day you couldn't complete tasks. Track days you miss work or appointments or family functions.
Keep lists of your appointment with your doctor, and any other symptoms of any other ailments you may have. Start scheduling appointments for each varied thing, and PUSH your doctor for more testing. HARD! PUSH HARD!!!
Most COPD patients don't get diagnosed until at least one year after their first COPD related appointment! For some, it took a few YEARS to get a diagnosis. Think about how much the disease had progressed by the time it was finally diagnosed and treated?!?!
I had appointments for my COPD, arthritis, tendonitis, carpal tunnel, foot pain, hip pain, every pain. One doctor got mad that she was seeing me so often. Well, I changed doctors. You MUST push for your health. PUSH for an accurate diagnosis.
At each appointment, ask for copies of why you had that appointment, and any test results.
You should research the laws about filing for disability where you live. Then, once you feel you meet the criteria, which isn't easy... You file your disability claim. I did mine online and it was easy. In my case, I did not have enough current documentation when I first filed. So, I was denied twice. And then, I sought an attorney.
Having COPD means you are not always thinking clearly, may be a bit forgetful, dare I say a little irresponsible when your O2 is low? For myself and many others this is true. An attorney helps keep you focused on what you need to do to meet the terms of meeting disability guidelines.
Yes, you will have to let the attorney take a small part of your settlement, but you didn't have that money to begin with. It isn't like you are losing something you didn't have to begin with. I know some will be upset with that statement. But, that is how I must look at it to not be so sad to see the money go into someone else's pocket. Plus, they did me a great service by aiding me in this difficult chapter of my life.
Normally, when you apply, they will deny you. It is the way things work. We just have to deal with it. Some, get approved straight away. Luck is on their side, it has nothing to do with anything else. The system is designed to put off dealing with you for a while. Trust me, it has been 3 1/2 years.
When you are denied, you reapply. If you are denied again as I was, you get to appeal that denial and have a hearing with your attorney (or yourself?) in front of a judge and most often times, an "occupational expert".
This is a chance to plead your case, and let the judge know any new developments.
**A word on occupational "experts". I could run this chink into the ground. She has probably only had 2 jobs in her life. Student and "occupational expert". She knows NOTHING about the vast amount of jobs we have had. She has no clue what these jobs REALLY require of us or what we have to do to keep them. So, pay them no mind and speak up if they are acting as if there is no reason you cannot do one of your previous jobs.
Speaking of previous jobs, think of ALL the reasons you cannot do them. Every little nit picky thing counts for something.
~The perfume customers wear triggers an embarrassing exacerbation.
~Body odor is also a trigger.
~So are air freshener, deodorant, soaps, and lotions. YOU have no control over these things.
~Temerature, humidity, and dust are also triggers.
~Talking too long, can be a trigger.
~think of every single trigger and USE it in your defense if you get the opportunity.
You will meet with your attorney, assuming you have one and sit before a judge. This may be in person or via video or phone. They will ask several questions for clarity. You will then also be asked many questions that your attorney thinks will aid you in your case.
You may also be given a moment to speak freely about your illness. I was allowed to elaborate a little and was never cut off from speaking at any time. Try to keep your statements brief and to the point. It is okay to write down things you want to say, and have a card in front of you in case you need to refer to it. If the judge asks why you are reading, tell them you didn't want to forget anything, that your illness causes forgetfulness. The judge will again ask a few clarifying statements and then conclude the hearing.
In my experience, there was no immediate ruling. She wanted to revisit all the facts carefully, and then come to a determination at a later date. This is respectable. In just a brief meeting, how can one really come to a solid conclusion.
Now, you will have the chance to take a deep breathe in and relax. This part is over. Time to wait for a fair and just decision. Until then, think about ways you can supplement your income. We can all do SOMETHING. We just can't do it under the strict time requirements of an employer.
Start reading about something you have always wanted to learn about. Or, write about something you are passionate about. You may make things that can be sold to others, or have a service you can offer on your own terms and limitations.
Disability is only the base of your income. You ARE allowed to earn a little bit of money each month.
Think about this. Once you get that disability check, you are in complete control of you future. Sure, you may have to downsize your home, car, and more. But, like you as a disabled person really NEED that big fancy house in that uber expensive subdivision? That Jaguar can be sold for a customized van for your wheelchair.
Oh, what is that? You don't have those things to give up? Oh, neither do I. So, we must resolve to live in a way that is meaningful, happy, and fulfilling without the price tags.
If you have those things to give up? LUCKY! But, again, there are more important things in life than expensive cars, and big fancy houses.
You are ALIVE!
You deserve a home you can manage, a car that can carry your oxygen tanks, wheelchairs, and other medical equipment you need.
The day after Christmas I unexpectedly received the very early letter of ruling in my case.
How could I be denied when I clearly meet all of the qualifications?
The letter, showed clear bias and incompetence.
When I read the letter, I honestly imagined the judge must have been sitting at home alone, in front of the family fireplace... With a few empty bottles of wine laying at her feet. Crumpled tissues scattered about. Maybe a fight with her husband? Maybe she didn't get what she wanted for Christmas?
What ever the case, my joy from the day before departed as I read on. She agreed that I met the definition of disabled with COPD, but ruled against it anyways. She admitted in the ruling that she did not have available something she needed, but ruled against it anyways. She showed clear contempt for the fact that I had been struggling to quit smoking PRIOR to my COPD diagnosis. Back when I was trying to figure out what was wrong, but, no doctor bothered to look any further than the cough.
I was shocked, and heartbroken.
After, I called to set up an appointment with my attorney who had assured me that we had this. There was zero reason for me to be denied when I have multiple disabling factors. We met and she was at a loss, she was so shocked by the denial, and the lack of good reasoning for the denial.
So we talked over options...
- Disregard this one and reapply with a new date of disability. Losing all back pay, and wasting another few years.
- Fight this all the way to federal court.
My 5 year old who needs summer clothing for this summer, but her mother is flat broke with zero income? She might like to go to the zoo, or Shedds Aquarium. Pony rides, and all the summer fun a 5 year old should have ALREADY experienced have to be put off another year or two.
Thankfully, I can see the light at the end of this nightmare tunnel. I am also grateful for my family who do their best to help me out when things need done, or paid for.
Thank you all for reading! I sincerely hope that your experiences with filing for disability are much more swift and fair than mine have been. Better yet, I hope you never have to go this route in life.