Tim’s hearing is today. He and his lawyer are meeting with a hearings officer to appeal the disability denial. The session will take 30 to 60 minutes. I’ll be outside in case the attorney feels something needs clarification, but in all likelihood I’ll stay outside the whole time.
Let’s all think good thoughts. You can keep thinking good thoughts even after the hearing takes place (11 a.m. Pacific) because the actual decision won’t be rendered for a few weeks. Because the process just isn’t slow enough, apparently.
Pessimist or realist?
Despite my plea for good thoughts, I’m going in with the assumption that he’ll be denied again. The attorney said that most appeals aren’t won until you get in front of an administrative law judge. So once we get the official denial — in a few weeks — we can apply for that step. Which can take around 18 months. Because bureaucracy.
It’s a lot easier for me to just go in with the knowledge that this isn’t the final step. A lot less stress overall if I’m not on tenterhooks during the hearing and especially for weeks after. I’m sure I’ll feel a quick surge of hope when the decision does eventually arrive in the mail. But overall I know what to expect.
For now, I’m reminding myself that the only stress of this situation is getting us to the appointments. And the stress it’s causing Tim, of course. That, unfortunately, is a much different case.
Having to go on disability is dehumanizing enough. Then being blamed for maintaining decent health — because you’re no longer pushing past every physical limit to keep a job (and failing) — is just a million times worse. Even knowing a denial is coming won’t stop him from being devastated by the official letter.
The fun of SSD
I know there are people out there convinced that there are hordes of fraudsters out to game the system. Perhaps they don’t know the process.
Technically, the first steps are to be in denial about your limitations and push yourself beyond all reasonable limits, destroying your already fragile health. Then to sit around feeling worthless and hopeless while you work up the wherewithal to actually start the process.
But hey, let’s assume you’re a big ole faker and don’t have to go through that. Well, here’s how you go about claiming your “free” money:
- Find a doctor willing to state that your condition keeps you from working for at least a year
- Fill out an application with painstaking-yet-repetitive questions about the exact nature of your restrictions
- Wait 1-2 months to get an appointment to review the application with a Social Security officer
- Get a denial 2-3 months after that
- File an appeal
- Get a denial 2-4 months after that
- Request for a hearing in front of a judge
- Wait 12-18 months (or more) for the hearing
- If you have a lawyer, probably get approved. If not, you’re looking at years of more appeals.
Throughout the process, you’ll be living on almost nothing. You can get food stamps and maybe Medicaid. The state of Washington gave me $330 a month (which was repaid once my case was approved). I appreciated it, but in Seattle that’s not even enough for the rent on a room in a house.
But hey, it’s all worth it when you get those benefits right? I mean you’re cashing those big checks for… around $850. Think I’m underestimating? Nadine started working at a young age and didn’t go on disability until her 50s, yet she still only gets about $1,000 after Medicare premiums.
So yeah, probably around $850. The good news: You make so little that your Medicare premiums are covered, and you probably qualify for food stamps. So you’ll keep every cent of your Social Security check! Which is good since the rent for even a room in a house is probably $400.*
So you have $450 left over for utilities, bus pass (or gas and car insurance), doctor co-pays and medication. Plus the inevitable unexpected expenses life doles out.
Yep, you’re livin’ the high life. All you have to do is watch every penny and deal with the stigma of being on disability.
So let’s make the crazy assumption that you’re not on SSD for S&Gs. That almost anyone would rather earn a paycheck than have everyone (including themselves) question their worth.
Let’s assume, then, that you’re actually sick and that your benefits allow you the breathing room to take care of your health.
Well, that could bite you in the ass.
Not working will usually greatly improve a sick person’s health. There’s time to rest, recuperate and figure out how to work within health limitations — all while keeping a roof over your head.
Which would be great… if your renewed health (which comes from not working) weren’t sometimes construed as proof that you’re well enough to work.
Tim was initially approved for severe eczema. People who read the blog way back in the day may remember that Tim sometimes couldn’t wear clothing. Most jobs require clothing.
Also, employers prefer you don’t come in with staph/MRSA infections. We stopped counting after the 20th MRSA boil, which was at some point in our second year together.
So Tim applied for (and eventually got) Social Security Disability.
Since then, most stress has been lifted from Tim’s life. Until you stop working, you fail to appreciate how much it takes just to be somewhere on time and then have to be there for a set number of hours. Let’s not get started on deadlines and office politics.
But less stress is only part of the equation.
Since Tim is home, he can take showers as needed. This helps him ameliorate pain in his joints and muscles and helps to numb his skin. He can also lie down if needed. Plus, he doesn’t have to sit or stand in one place for too long. He’s rarely asked to bend or carry things.
He’s also able to keep warm. In Arizona, offices and businesses keep the A/C cranked up. Tim keeps the house between 76-78 and wears fleece pants. He’s having a bad spell right now, so it’s currently 79. It’s a compromise between 80 (which had me sweating profusely, even in the bare essentials) and 78 (which caused him to put on a hoodie). I’m trying to stay under the ceiling fan and drink lots of water.
All of these conditions mean he’s better — but only because he’s not working. But all Social Security sees is that he hasn’t needed to see dermatologists for his eczema and that he’s not completely immobilized by fibromyalgia pain.
(Sort of) new wrinkle
But hey, there is one thing that’s gotten worse: Tim’s depression. He’s always struggled with it, but it’s gotten exponentially worse since he stopped working.
And now that his benefits are in jeopardy — including health care which is the real financial issue — he feels even more rotten and worthless.
He wonders, sometimes out loud, if we wouldn’t all be better off without him. It’s why I refused to even look into life insurance for him. The request came a few minutes after the observation that my life would be easier if he weren’t around.**
The Cymbalta has helped, both with the depression and the pain.*** He’s back in therapy. By the time we get a hearing in front of a judge, I expect his therapist will have a pretty convincing case for major depressive disorder.
Or maybe the Social Security people will decide that the depression will be fixed by him getting a job. I wouldn’t put anything past them.
Did you know the disability process was so long and involved? Have you ever wondered about disability fraud? Anyone want to beat up the Social Security Administration for me?
*Of course, you can always apply for subsidized housing, but you’ll probably wait well over a year. And some of those places aren’t convenient if you rely on public transit.
**It takes about two years for the suicide clause to be waived, but who knows how long this case will drag on? And Tim can be remarkably patient when it comes to sinister, long-term plans.
***He estimates he’s now at a 3.5 out of 10 on the pain scale most days. But that’s from someone who’s used to being in constant pain. I think that probably translates to 6-7 for the rest of us — at least based on my misery when my lower back flares up even moderately. In his place, I’d be drowning in pity-party confetti. Except that I’d be too sore to throw the stuff.