Applying for disability can be one of the most frustrating processes. Did you know that the Social Security Administration denies 97% of all initial claims? My first bit of advice is get a lawyer. It’s almost impossible to navigate the process on your own. A lawyer experienced in disability claims knows the process and can help you along the way.
I first applied in February of 2018. I had an appointment with a doctor that is a contractor for the SSA. I got my denial letter about a month later.The next step is to file an appeal (this is where you really need the lawyer).
After you file for an appeal it takes a couple of months to get a date assigned for a court hearing with a federal judge. Depending on where you live that can take anywhere from two to four years to get a hearing date. In Birmingham its about a year old and a half. When I finally got my date is was for October of 2019.
Now I was very fortunate that I had Long Term Disability Insurance so I was at least getting an income while I was going through this process. As a side note, no matter how old, or young you are, if you have this option through your work or through an independent agent, do it. You never know when something in your life might change and you might need it.
When my court date finally came I was nervous. I felt like I had one chance to convince a judge and a doctor that I couldn’t work. When I arrived, I met my lawyer in the lobby and waited for about an hour (they are always running behind). When we were finally called back, we were in a small room with the judge and a court reporter. There was an occupational health doctor on a speaker phone. The judge was very prepared and reviewed all of my medical files. He asked me a few questions and proceeded to ask the doctor for his recommendation. Your fate is really in the hands of the doctor who determines if there is any work that you can do. Luckily, the doctor on my case said no there was no gainful occupation I could do.
Now sometimes if you get the right judge, they will tell you then what their recommendation is going to be. Mine did not. At this point he just excused us. My lawyer said we should get the judge’s ruling in a week or two. Several months later I still had not received a ruling so my lawyer made a recommendation. She told me to reach out to my local congressman and ask that they intervene. I had to fill out a release and fax it to my congressman’s office but within one day of that, we had a ruling from the judge. He was going to award me full disability.
By the time I got the letter from the judge it was mid January 2020 and I got my first check in February. The other thing you will get at this point is back pay starting six months from the time you filed for disability. This is typically where your lawyer will get their fee. In my case I had to pay back all of the back pay to my insurance company.
The whole process took me almost exactly two years to complete. It was very frustrating at times but in the long run it was worth it. Be patient, get a lawyer and plan on sticking it out for a while. I realize if you have no income at all coming in these may seem like empty words but all I can tell you is don’t give up hope.