Disability Resources: What do I do now?

You have worked all of your natural adult life but lately it has gotten harder and harder to do those things that you have done your entire life.  Maybe you’ve had an accident, whether work-related or not. Maybe you’ve developed an illness like Fibromyalgia, Multiple Sclerosis, or even Cancer. You may find yourself seeing your physician on a monthly or even weekly basis due to your illness, and purchasing prescriptions hand over fist just to keep going.  You find yourself close to losing your job because of this. Your back is against the wall. You are having to choose between housework and your job on a daily basis. What do you do? Where can you turn?

Take a deep breath.  

You need it.  You’ve been struggling for a long time.  Take a little time for yourself to come to terms, mentally, with what is going on.  We are human and we are driven. To suddenly be forced to stop by our own body is very traumatic and there are issues that you have to deal with, whether you choose to acknowledge them or not.

Consider Intermittent FMLA.

Speak with your Doctor about a little-known part of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) called “Intermittent FMLA.”  What this allows you to do is to take a day here, a couple days there, a week there, as you need it without the penalties of a call out.  This gives you a breather. Also, if your company has a policy for Personal Time Off, you will be paid for your time off, as long as you have PTO hours available.  If you and your doctor deem that you are physically capable of continuing in your work situation, albeit at a diminished capacity, it’s a win. Hold on to it while you can.

Get your evidence together.

Get a copy of all your medical records from any physician who has any knowledge of your personal illness and has treated or investigated it in any way. You will need these. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor’s office for them; you have a right to request your own medical records. They may charge you for copies, or charge a flat fee for the service, however they cannot deny you access.

Apply for Social Security Disability Insurance.

When you lose your job, your doctor puts you on disability, or you decide on a date to stop working due to your physical condition, go to the website for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and fill out an application.  You can do a complete application online and not have to worry about going to the local office and sitting in a long, painful, and exhausting line. The online application also has the capability to save and continue later so you can fill it out at your own pace and don’t have to do it all in one sitting which, depending on your situation and organization, could be difficult for you.

Apply for Medicaid.

You will need some type of insurance to continue seeing your physicians during the application process.  Go to the government insurance marketplace and do an application for insurance. If you have no income because you lost your job, put that you have no income.  Whatever you do, PLEASE be open and honest, as you will have to give them access to your finances and you do NOT want to be caught in a lie with Uncle Sam. This application will give you an immediate decision on whether you are eligible for Medicaid or not.  The website will also send you a confirmation through the US Mail that you have been enrolled in Medicaid. You will be able to take this confirmation to your doctor and your pharmacy for coverage. It is helpful to call the State Medicaid office to make sure your insurance covers your physician and your meds.  For example, when I went on Medicaid, I was placed in coverage by Aetna. Neither my physician nor my pain management meds were covered by Aetna. I called and was switched to another insurance provider who covered my physicians AND had better prescription coverage.

Apply for SNAP and LIHEAP.

If you have zero income, you will need assistance with food and utilities until SSDI processes. Go to the local site for Children and Family Assistance and apply for assistance for food.  It used to be called “Food Stamps” but in many places, it is now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This will take care of the food. For utilities, there is a program administered by your local Community Action Association, called the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).  Answer their questions truthfully, and complete their application process.

Time to breathe again.

Take a couple days to breathe and relax.  You are waiting on these agencies to review and process your application, and you head is probably swirling with all the paperwork you have just completed.  After a couple days, recheck the SNAP website to see if you have been set up with a phone interview. Mark the date and time on your calendar. You will need to be near your phone and able to take the call at this time.  They will probably ask you to email them a copy of your driver’s license as well as a letter from any relative or friend who has been assisting you with bills and food. Make sure the letter is signed and dated. Be prompt and make sure to follow up with your representative to make sure they receive the requested items.  There is a time limit on them receiving these items before your case goes cold and you have to restart. Then, call your local Social Security Administration office and ask for an appointment to speak with a claims representative. Mark this date and time on your calendar and be at the office at least 30 minutes to an hour early, just in case there is a problem.  Also, be sure to take all those medical records you have been compiling. That is what this appointment is for, to provide them with the evidence they need to be able to decide your case. This evidence will travel with your application to the central office for review.

Chargie Tip: Keep copies of every file, application, and document that you send, and make sure to print and keep the delivery confirmations for anything you fax!

Watch your mail and e-mail for paperwork and notices of appointments.

Within 2 to 4 weeks of applying, you should start receiving things in the mail.  Keep everything in a disability file. If any of these agencies call, answer their questions honestly and as completely as possible.  If they request documents or information, provide them as quickly as possible. SSDI may require you to see an SSDI physician to assess how your illness affects your ability to work.  It’s likely that this won’t be nearby; it may indeed be at the opposite end of the state from wherever you live. The trip will probably be excruciating for you. Be prepared. Make sure to be there at least an hour prior to your appointment to allow you find the place and get registered.  Your claims depend on it.

SSDI, once it moves to the review phase, takes between 2 and 6 months to review and send you a decision. You will probably be told that its closer to 2 months than to 6. Patience is a virtue, but I can definitely understand if you get antsy with that kind of wait.  Things like finances and tempers get stretched and strained. This is why you did the other applications, so that you can survive until the process is done. Use these resources wisely; they have to last.

From the point that all documents and evidence have been provided and all applications are under review, it’s just a matter of waiting.  Take this time to focus on you and your health. Rest, and rehabilitate yourself physically. Do the things your physicians tell you and do your best to get to feeling the best you can.  You may not be able to work any more but you must still live. As this is disability where you are not expected to return to work, ever, you are basically looking at your retirement no matter how young you are.  Start making the best of it. It may not be all that you had hoped for, but it’s what you have. Think about visiting relatives, going out to parks, and doing whatever it takes to stay active. You may be disabled, but if you sit around and ACT disabled, you will only make things worse, physically.  

About the Author

Pamela is 48 years old and has suffered from Fibromyalgia for about 5 years.  She lives in Louisiana with her three dogs. She has a vested interest in helping people in similar situations to her own, and seeks to educate people about her illness and how best to deal with it. She is planning future articles on tips and tricks for stretching your resources and tips on staying active with disabilities.

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