Social Security Disability Insurance
Applying for SSDI can seem like a full-time job. There's a lengthy application process, a lot of paperwork to gather, and some teamwork required with your doctor. In short, you have to develop a strategy to pursue your claim effectively.
Most of the information shared here will focus on the application process as well as covering some old ground from past chapters. The SSDI requires you to prove the following:
You are disabled under the SSDI's definition of disabled.
You are entitled to benefits because you have worked a significant number of years and paid Social Security taxes.
While that may seem fairly straightforward, you must be able to prove that you are unable to do any kind of work on a full-time basis. Your doctor must also deem you “totally disabled.” Any information you can add from another member of your health care team will also be helpful, such as a vocational rehabilitation counselor. Keep in mind, you will be granted SSDI not only because of your diagnosis, but because of your symptoms and limitations.
A diagnosis in itself does not prove disability. The quality of your medical records in describing your symptoms and limitations also plays a big factor, so you'll want to have the support of the physician (or physicians) who treat you. This is an important point. You have to make sure your medical providers and counselors support your claim. Without them, your chances of winning may be reduced.
One of the most confusing aspects of filing for SSDI is the plethora of forms that must be filled out. When doing so, now is not the time to overstate your abilities, putting the best slant on your illness. Rather, now is the time to be clear, concise, and honest about your symptoms and limitations. Also, consider yourself to be having a bad MS day when you fill out the paperwork; it's a more accurate assessment of what activity level you can sustain.
Another critical issue in your disability case is your symptoms — specifically the frequency, severity, and duration of your symptoms. You will want to briefly state your diagnosis, but then focus on your symptoms and how they limit not only your ability to work, but also your ability to function on a daily basis. Note any cognitive difficulties you are having and discuss the psychological effects of your condition, too. The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes four impairments in MS — gait, vision, cognitive problems, and fatigue — so you and your doctor will have to be able to document a major deficit in one these areas.
Nowadays, you can file your disability claim online. Or you can contact your nearest Social Security office to pick up an application or have one sent to you. (On the web, visit
During your initial interview with the SSA, you will go over your paperwork and sign several forms, including those that will allow the SSA to obtain your medical records.
Once the SSA has reviewed all of your information (application and medical records) they will make a decision known as an Initial Decision, sent as a written document. If you've been denied, your next step will be to file an appeal. This requires writing a Request for Reconsideration of your denial which must be submitted well within the sixty-day deadline. Because the SSA can deny your claim if you are even one day past this deadline, you should consider sending your request by certified mail. You may also submit additional medical information if you choose.
If a second denial notice is issued, you may put in a written request for a hearing, where you will appear in front of a judge. You may bring witnesses (friends, relatives, your doctor), although letters and other documentation will suffice. At this stage in the game, many people hire a lawyer who is skilled in disability law. The SSA maintains a list of lawyers' organizations that deal with these types of claims, as does the NMSS.
The last stop on the Social Security train is your local federal district court. The guidance of a skilled attorney would be prudent before, and if, you get to this point. Most work on a contingency basis, which means you would not render payment unless he is successful at getting you your benefits.
Because of the variable nature of MS, some people who have been receiving SSDI may decide they'd like to go back to work at some point. The SSA has a Ticket to Work program that offers various incentives to get you back into the work force if you so choose. Certain limitations and restrictions apply. For more information, visit the Social Security website at
While deciding to leave the work force — even temporarily — can be a challenging decision, the good news is that there are plenty of options to consider. From long-term disability plans to the Family Medical Leave Act, there are an unprecedented number of programs designed to help you with the transition. The truth is that none of these things represents an easy solution. But doing what works best for you — and for your loved ones — should be your motivating factor. It may also help to know that should circumstances change, you always have the option of returning to work. Knowing that you can extend a measure of flexibility to the days ahead is reassuring.