If I Stop Working and File for Disability, How Do I Know that my Money Won't Run Out Before my Case is Approved?
Posted Jan 09 2010 11:11am
I have written extensively on this blog about the claim processing delays that continue to plague Social Security disability. I suspect that there are a lot of folks out there who are suffering and struggling trying to stay at work, perhaps at the expense of their health, because they are concerned that if they stop working, they will run out of savings before their case is decided. I recently received the following question from a gentleman named Steve who is fighting diabetes and diabetic complications and who finds himself with this quandary:
I am a 43 year old diabetic. I was diagnosed 7 years ago and progressed quickly from pills to insulin injections and have now been on an insulin pump for 3 years. I have neuropathy in both legs, heart disease, and many other diabetic problems, because of high blood sugar. I am at an idea weight of 170 Lbs. and 5' 9" height and have always been active and try to eat healthy. I take 40-50 units of insulin each day, but my A1C readings are still 10+. I am no longer able to perform my work assignments. My employer (25years)had even allowed me to change to an office job but I am still not able to sit for over an hour without my legs hurting and I have had many hypo (low-sugar) episodes at work which scared everyone. My doctor's have suggested that I quit so that I can concentrate on this disease before it kills me, but the stories of possible delays in SSDI have really concerned me and my family. I have enough money saved to survive for a year, but that is it. Do you think someone like me would qualify for SSDI benefits, and what would a potential wait be?
Here are my thoughts: I think that Steve has very good reason to be concerned. When you apply for benefits, there are two times when you are likely to be approved – at the initial application stage, which will be within four to six months after application, or at the hearing stage, which could be two to three years after application.
Initial application approvals are almost always arise in cases that meet a listing. Steve is a diabetic and the applicable listing is at Listing 9.08. State Agency adjudicators will approve diabetes cases on the listings but they will expect the medical records to document as many of the following complications:
long standing neuropathy (numbness in extremities)
long standing retinopathy (vision issues)
blood sugar readings at 200 or higher over an extended period of time despite increasing dosages of insulin
organ damage (documented by abnormal lab readings)
statement or checklist from treating doctor that condition equals 9.08
In my view, you need to aggressively argue to the adjudicator that your case meets a listing – do not assume that the adjudicator will figure it out.
If your case is denied at the initial application stage, it is very unlikely that a different adjudicator will approve it at reconsideration. Statistics I have seen suggest that no more than 10 to 15% of cases are approved at the reconsideration appeal level.
Assuming that you are denied at initial and reconsideration, the wait for a hearing date can be long, very long. Depending on where you live the wait can reach two to three years. Steve did not say where he lives – Social Security does publish statistics about the wait times for each disability hearing office.
As far as the substance of Steve's claim, it appears that he is having a great deal of trouble keeping his blood sugar under control despite both his diet and his medicine. I would advise Steve to bring a copy of listing 9.08 to his doctor and to enlist his doctor's support in the form of a narrative report stating that he meets the listing and that his capacity to sit, stand, concentrate, get through a workday without interruption and to avoid excessive absences has been significantly impaired by the diabetes. You can read more about the case strategies I use in diabetes claims by clicking on the link.
At some point, Steve is going to have to make the decision to stop working and to start the disability process. Obviously the intend of the disability laws is that Steve should wait until working become impossible, as opposed to highly uncomfortable.
Finally, I would also point out that if Steve stops working, files for disability and is turned down at initial and reconsideration, he could try to return to work. Work attempts of three months or less are considered "unsuccessful work attempts" and can actually help a claimant by demonstrating his desire to work. Those unsuccessful work attempts can also add money to the family's budget – not an ideal solution but perhaps a way to deal with the many months of delay when waiting for a hearing date.