(International readers–this post discusses the American government system of aiding those with disabilities. I can’t comment on any others)
By 2007, it was becoming increasingly obvious that my condition was not improving to the point that I could return to work. It had been about nine months since I had turned in my last assignment for my freelance work. We were not in any kind of financial straits, but I was used to having my own money and paying my own expenses. Since I had worked for the Social Security Disability Insurance program for seven years, I was intimately familiar with the process, and I decided to file for benefits.
I had a few reasons for doing this. One was simply to have my own money to spend on my share of the household bills. Another was that if I stayed off work too long and didn’t pay into the system, I wouldn’t be able to get benefits later on. I also wanted to be able to take advantage of Medicare in case my husband’s work ever dropped their insurance benefits. His insurance had been very good to pay for my bills thus far, but it had a lifetime limit to benefits, and I wanted to have a backup insurance in case I maxed it out. I was also thinking about protecting myself—I knew that in case anything ever happened to Bob, I needed to have a steady income outside of his salary.
The first step was to call the local Social Security office and file my claim. I believe all my information was taken over the telephone at that point. You can also go to the office personally and be interviewed or you can request forms be sent to you by mail. Two sets of information are collected—information about your financial state and information about your condition. The financial information is to see if you also qualify for benefits under Supplemental Security Income, the disability program for the poor and people who are not covered by the Social Security Disability Insurance. The medical information, including the doctors and hospitals you have seen, is used to collect your medical records to aid in determining if you are medically eligible for benefits.
An important element in the financial determination is your earnings. I was not working at all at the time I filed for benefits. Some part-time workers are eligible for benefits as long as the pay does not exceed a certain threshold. This threshold is called “substantial gainful activity”. The idea is that if you cannot work enough to earn a certain amount of money due to your condition, you may be eligible for benefits. If you had to cut back to part-time because of your condition, you may be found eligible at the point that you had to reduce your hours or pay. This finding can increase your back payment benefit and can make you immediately eligible for benefits without having to fully quit work and without having to go through the five-month waiting period for benefits to start. In my case, I was found eligible as soon as my earnings ended in July 2006.