I see it almost every week, someone desperately needs to file for Social Security disability benefits, but because he or she knows it will take some time to win their case, they keep on working.
Here are some usual scenarios:
1. Even if you would likely win your case on the first attempt, you're still looking at at least seven months before being granted benefits. Why so long? Because, under the law, any work missed due to a severe condition for five months or less is considered to be only short term disability. So, if a person attempts to file for benefits before the first five months of being disabled, Social Security will place that person on a "medical hold" until the five months is satisfied. From there, it would take at least another two months to process the claim. And this time frame would only be in the very best case scenarios.
2. The person has stopped working for the requisite amount of time (our five months), but the claim is denied twice and the person has to then appeal and wait for a hearing. Here, we're easily talking about two years before the claim is resolved. Further, if you look at the approval rates for Administrative Law Judges in your town, you'll see there is an average approval rate hovering around 45%. That's a long time to not work and go without income with low odds of success. This article isn't intended to get you to use an attorney, but understand that if you do have to go to hearing, using an attorney increases your chances of success dramatically.
3. The case is won after the first appeal (the Reconsideration phase), but the Social Security Administration takes a month or more to pay any back pay and start benefits. Here, it would still take your usual five months of short-term disability time, plus another four or so months to process the claim the first time and another three or so months for the Reconsideration, and you are still likely looking at a year or more before there is any income. So, even for a claim that does not have to go to a hearing, you would still be looking at a year or more.
So, how in the world can you afford to ever file for disability benefits? A year or more is a long time to go without income, but here are some pointers that may help you through this process:
A. Know what kind of benefits you actually qualify for. Do you qualify for SSDI (social Security Disability Insurance) benefits or SSI (Supplemental Security Income)? Knowing this can help you while you are waiting for a decision. If you do have enough work credits to qualify for SSDI benefits, then you can actually work while waiting for an approval (or denial). However, you just have to know the income limitations that are in place. As long as you do not gross more than a certain amount each month, then you will not be automatically disqualified from receiving benefits. However, beware! If you do happen to go over the income amount limits and your work was not considered to be a trial work period, then you are going to lose your case.
B. If you have to keep working until the "wheels fall off," then keep going to the doctor. This is very important. Social Security will likely only do a "look back" for two years from the alleged onset date to retrieve medical records to support your claim. So, many people have medical treatment more than two years in the past, but because there is often nothing a doctor can do to improve their condition, they see no need to continue seeking treatment. However, if you try and file and claim you have medical records from five to seven years ago showing you are disabled, you are going to be denied. I can't stress how important it is to keep seeking treatment before your claim, during, and after.
C. While going to the doctor and continuing to work. have your doctor ask your employer in writing for help in accommodating your condition. You can use this request for special accommodations with your continued treatment to help prove your disabling condition. Further, it gets your doctor involved in your claim. Claims often have a significantly higher chance of success when a treating doctor (and more so as a specialist) helps.
D. Understand what it truly means to be disabled under Social Security's rules. Being disabled does not just mean you have a severe condition that keeps you from working. Being disabled truly means that despite your condition, you are unable to perform any job you have performed in the last fifteen years and there are no other jobs in the national economy you would be able to perform. Social Security determines these two things by looking not only at the severity of your condition, but your age, education, and any work skills you have learned. While this begins to become complicated, look to see if there are other jobs you would be able to perform. Can't do plumbing anymore? Do you have management skills which could help you find a job that is not so demanding physically? In other words, be honest with yourself in assessing what your abilities and limitations are. Always choose to work at doing something else rather than filing for disability benefits if you can help it.