What Do I Know About Social Security Disability?
Accepting that I am truly allowed to receive disability payments because of my bipolar disorder has been a hard thing for me, but I think I finally understand that I don’t receive Social Security disability because I am “entitled.” I am not “getting something for free.” I receive disability payments because I qualify for them. Due to my bipolar disorder, I became unable to hold down a job in 2000. Since I paid into the system for 15 years, I subsequently qualified for disability payments through Social Security.
Getting onto Social Security Disability has become much harder since I applied in 2003. A friend of mine who was rejected repeatedly before finally winning her case (she has metastatic breast cancer and severe depression) was told by a lawyer that people are practically guaranteed rejection of the first application. So, if you apply, it is safe to expect that you will be denied the first time around. Keep trying if you believe you are truly disabled. You will need to provide the government with all of your medical, therapy, hospital, and psychiatric. You can get the records by writing a letter to the medical provider requesting copies. There is usually a small fee for copying, which varies depending on the provider and how many pages they will be sending you. The laws are different for psychological records than they are for other medical records as to what the provider is required to give you and you may have trouble getting them to give you copies. But when you sign a release form, you should be able to get them to send the records directly to Social Security.
Often after an appeal, the government will want to have you examined by their own “expert,” whose job is to find out if you can possibly do productive work (called an IME or independent medical examination). In my case, my initial denial said that I would be fine to handle a job at a fast food restaurant. Because I also have fibromyalgia, that is definitely not an option for me, but I was applying based on my bipolar disorder, so they told me I could do a menial job with my “qualifying” disability. Standing on my feet all days flipping burgers would be physical hell for minimum wage for me. I appealed and got a notice that I would need to go to an IME. But before I could go, I got another letter saying I had qualified for the monthly payments. I’m not sure what happened but, for whatever reason, I did not have to go to their “expert” in 2003. I think that now, with the state of the economy, they are requiring the IME’s before you can be approved.
The amount of money you will receive every month depends on how long you worked before your disability became too pronounced for you to continue, what kinds of jobs you had, how much money you put into the system, your education level, and probably a whole lot of other things I don’t know about. Because I had worked at a fairly high level job for ten years, making a very decent wage, and had gotten both a paralegal certificate and my college degree, I qualified for a fairly decent sized monthly payment. Since I had put a lot of money into the Social Security system, I qualified for more of a monthly income than someone who did not get a degree or had only worked at non-professional type jobs. If you qualify for payments, the income you will receive depends on your work history and how much you contributed to the system before you became disabled.
You may also qualify to receive disability payments for your children in your name, which will add to your monthly income. I receive payments for each of my two children that are under age 18. My oldest son did not graduate high school until he was 19, so we were required to have the high school sign a form saying he was still in school full time. His payments were continued until he graduated. Although payments for my children are made to me directly, they are in my children’s names and under their social security numbers.
You can apply for Social Security Disability online at www.ssa.gov/disability. You can also find all of the information you will need to have in order to apply. It is hard when you are mentally ill enough to need disability payments to focus long enough on everything you have to do, but it is worth it if you can do it. You will need to write quite a bit about your condition and why you feel you should receive these payments, so get some help from someone you trust if you do not feel able to put your need into words.
If you are approved for disability, make sure that you continue with all of your medical, therapy, and psychiatric appointments so that you will have a record of treatment and that your disability is continuing. If you are not working while you receive disability, you will be required to go through a medical review of your case every three years. I had one of these reviews in 2007. I took my husband with me and pretty much sat crying and shaking through the entire interview. Clearly, I was unable to function in any kind of a productive way – I wasn’t faking the crying and shaking. The woman who did my review was very kind, put in that I was still disabled, and became my therapist for a short time. I am grateful to her.
I would have needed another review in 2010, except that I had started back to work and was exempted. Unfortunately, however, it became clear over the year that I worked that I was still disabled enough from my bipolar disorder to be unable to hold any type of office job and I lost that job last October. My disability payments continued through a nine month “trial work period,” at which time they determined that I was not making enough money at my job to discontinue my benefits and that I was still disabled. They also determined that since I was working, but continued to have a qualifying disability, I would not need a medical review for the foreseeable future.
It was quite a blow when I was let go from my job three months later, because I tried so hard to get it right. But, the fact is, I am unable to hold a “real” job because of my bipolar disorder. Getting fired was when the reality slammed home and I finally accepted that I deserve and earned my disability payments. I went for a long time thinking I was maybe “putting one over” on the government by getting these payments, but I know now that there is a very good reason they agree that I am too disabled to work. I tried again after 12 years of disability to work again and failed. After months of grieving and being very angry about that, I have finally moved on.
For further information on applying for disability benefits, please go to www.ssa.gov/disability.