What Being on Disability Means and Does Not Mean
Almost two years ago I announced to my family that I was going to apply for Disability. Although I loved my job, my doctor urged me to take a break. At that point I was barely able to work 15 hours a week and spent all my time either sleeping or catching up on work. I didn’t have enough energy to truly dedicate myself to getting better. A break could give me the ability to get rid of some stress, focus on new treatments and maybe allow my body to heal. While they were supportive, my family had questions and reservations. There is a definite stigma attached to being on Disability. I didn’t have all the answers. It took a long time to discover what being on Disability means and doesn’t mean. I hope this may help others to understand how Disability can be beneficial.
*Note that for the sake of this article, “Disability” refers to receiving a monetary supplement either through a private insurance carrier (usually provided through your employer) or through Social Security Disability Insurance also known as SSDI. I recognize that there are many people who have disabling conditions but are forced to work for financial reasons or who have not applied for or have been denied their Disability claims.
What Being on Disability Means
Being on Disability means that one or more medical doctors believes that we are incapable of continuing to work at this moment due to a REAL and life-altering medical condition. Whether applying for the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), short or long term disability through our employer or seeking SSDI, no claim is approved without a doctor’s recommendation.
Being on Disability means that we are taking control of our illness. We use all our energy just to make it through the work day, which leaves us no time to make significant lifestyle changes in the hopes of getting better. Without the stress of work we can now explore new treatments, go to new specialists and get stronger.
Being on Disability means that we have a new full-time job as a “Professional Patient.” Hours of paperwork, copying, staying on hold with insurance agencies, coordinating benefits, following up with Disability case workers, dealing with medical appointments (scheduling, preparing and attending), and researching new treatments can be an overwhelming new world that we are thrust into with little knowledge or training.
Disability can strike anyone at any time. The Council for Disability Awareness states that:
- More than half of disabled Americans are in their working years, from 18-64.
- One in eight workers will be disabled for five years or more during their working careers.
- A quarter of all people entering the workforce today will be on SSDI at some point in their careers.
- Approximately 90% of Disabilities are caused by illnesses rather than accidents. Debilitating illnesses can range from cancer, disorders of the nervous system and sense organs, congenital defects, viruses, cardiovascular disease, and mental health issues, many of which are invisible illnesses.
What Disability Does NOT Mean
Disability does NOT mean you are required or need to have a handicapped sticker on your car. Those using wheelchairs, canes and prosthetics are not the only ones who can be considered disabled. Invisible Illnesses can be just as painful and debilitating as any physical deformity and can be approved for Disability payments. These can include Lupus, Lyme’s Disease, Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Migraine Headaches, Arthritis, Fibromyalgia and Mental Illness.
Disability does NOT mean that we all sit at home on the couch eating bon-bons and watching the Real Housewives of whatever. While this may happen from time to time because we are too sick to do anything else, our days are often filled with dealing with our illness and catching up on life that we missed while our illness brought us down for days, weeks or months on end.
Being on Disability is NOT “an excuse.” We would much rather be at the family picnic, at our kids’ sporting event, making money in the workplace, on a date night or just hanging with our friends. Our illness puts limitations on what we can physically handle. Not being able to live the life we once had can be extremely depressing. It breaks our heart to have to say “no.”
Being on Disability does NOT mean we are seeking a free hand out. It is an incredibly long and tedious process to get approved for Social Security Disability. Even with the help of an attorney or advocacy group and our doctor it can take years to receive benefits. The red tape can discourage people from applying for or following through on appeals. A large majority of claimants are denied in the first round. Only a third of applicants were approved in 2013 on their first try2.
Being on Disability income from the government is usually NOT enough to live on.
- The average monthly benefit in 2013 from the Social Security Administration was $1,235. That equals $14,822 a year. The POVERTY line in America in 2013 was $11,490 for one person. 2
- 100 million workers are without private Disability income insurance.1 Additional private Disability insurance gives patients monetary benefits above and beyond a SSDI award, which could make the difference between barely making ends meet and living more comfortably.
- Medical problems contributed to 62% of all personal bankruptcies filed in the U.S. in 2007 and to half of all home foreclosure filings in 2006.1
Being on Disability does NOT mean that we aren’t allowed to have fun. There are days when we feel strong enough to go to a concert or throw a dinner party. We shouldn’t be judged for it or feel guilty about it. We carry a heavy burden every day with our illness. We don’t need to apologize for the good days.
Being on Disability does NOT mean that we won’t ever go back to work. It means that we are currently unable to perform the job we once had. Depending on the degree of our Disability it is possible to learn new skills, find better ways to manage our illness and return to work. The average individual disability claim lasts 31.6 months.1 In 2011, half of those on Disability who went through vocational training entered back into the workforce.2 I personally have transitioned from a career in banking to a home based writing job.
Disability does NOT mean that we are giving up or we’ve failed. We have accepted our illness and its limitations. If we need to take time to heal, we should feel empowered to do it and not feel guilty. The people who judge us don’t have to deal with the constant pain, the sleepless nights and the financial stress of being disabled. It is important for everyone in the workforce to know and understand how a disabling event would effect them financially. To learn more about how to apply or prepare for Disability, the following articles will help you to start the process.
- Council for Disability Awareness. “Disability Statistics” Available at: http://www.disabilitycanhappen.org/chances_disability/disability_stats.asp. Accessed January 2015.
- Official Social Security Website. “Research, Statistics, and Policy Analysis.” Available at: http://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/statcomps/. Accessed January 2015