Making the decision to stop working to take care of your health is difficult and deeply personal. I felt anxiety and guilt over leaving my career. The uncertainty of my future was a scary proposition. I felt like a failure. Taking steps to apply for Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) is even scarier. Roughly 60-75% of applications are denied and 80% of appeals are denied.
However, I was able to gain approval within five months of applying and after one appeal. I want to share a few reasons why I think my case was approved so fast. These insights apply to anyone seeking approval of SSDI benefits, not just those with chronic migraine.
Discuss SSDI with your doctor
Is your doctor on board with you stopping work and applying for disability? A doctor’s recommendation is incredibly important. This should be a decision you and your doctor make together. Your doctor will have paperwork to fill out as part of your SSDI application as well as ongoing yearly reports if you are awarded benefits.
Before these documents are completed by your doctor, it is imperative that both of you are on the same page. If you don’t see eye-to-eye, then get a second opinion!
Also, ask if your doctor and their staff have experience in managing a patient who is on disability. Their competency in filling out forms in a timely manner will directly impact your application and the process. Don’t leave room for a surprise.
Obtain all your medical records
Prior to submitting your SSDI application, request ALL of your medical records. Don’t leave out any specialist you’ve seen. Co-morbidities are common for those with a chronic illness. Think about any visits to a cardiologist, gastroenterologist, OB/GYN, physical therapist, rheumatologist, neurologist, endocrinologist, and any CT or MRI scans that were used in your diagnosis. Even if you’ve only seen a doctor once, include records from at least the past five years.
When you receive all of your records, READ through all of it! This goes back to the notion of making sure you and your doctor are on the same page. While you may not be able to understand all the medical terms, you can tell if there is a negative comment you should address prior to submitting your records.
Treatments past and present
It’s important to gather information about your current medications and any other medical treatments you receive, such as physical therapy, infusions, and hospital visits. You should also provide a detailed list of every medication you’ve ever been on for your condition. Use your medical records to compile this list. Don’t leave out any complementary or alternative methods (CAM) you use or have tried in treating our condition. You want to show that you have exhausted a variety of options.
You’ll be asked to fill out a form to report on the degree of disability you face on a daily basis. Overwhelm them with details. This means opening up about the very real daily struggles, which we sometimes don’t like to admit, even to ourselves. Talk about needing help. Talk about how exhausting it is to do daily chores. Talk about the grief you experience because your life has changed. Compare your optimal work performance with your current work product. Be very specific. I think I wrote 10-12 pages in response to this questionnaire.
Talk to your family
Besides needing emotional support from your family or close friends, you may need them to submit forms that discuss the impact of your illness in your daily life. If you ever have to meet before a judge during the appeals process, having third-party testimony could be vital in making your case. Before it gets to that point, check with your loved ones to see if they are willing to be part of the process should you call on them to do so.
Hire a professional
Does this all seem overwhelming? It is. Going through the SSDI application process can feel like a full-time job. Remember that you are sick and things can fall through the cracks. That’s why you need to hire a professional. There are disability lawyers or patient advocacy groups that will help you with requesting medical records, meeting deadlines, and even fill out forms for you based on phone interviews. When looking for a disability specialist, you should not be asked to pay for their services unless and until you are awarded Social Security Disability benefits. Make sure you check out the reputation of a potential partner. Check the Better Business Bureau for any negative claims against them.
These are the lessons I learned during the SSDI application process. If you’ve been through SSDI application process, do you have any other tips that others could benefit from?