Many people with chronic neurological conditions have questions about when to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI. While there’s plenty of information on how to apply, there’s much less on what to consider before you apply. Here are some important points to think about before moving forward.
- The definition of “disability” under Social Security is based on a person’s ability to work. According to the Social Security Administration, you are considered disabled if: “You cannot do work that you did before; You cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s); and Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or will result in death.”
- Social Security recognizes multiple sclerosis as a potentially disabling condition, but an MS diagnosis alone does not qualify a person for disability income. To qualify, individuals must have a severe and lasting condition. The severity is established by medical information provided by you and your health care provider. Your provider will need to assess whether there are objective medical findings to establish the severity of your condition. An example of objective medical evidence would be results from a neuropsychological evaluation that demonstrates significant cognitive impairment.
- The application waiting period for SSDI is approximately 90 days. It’s important to make sure you can cover your living expenses during this time and during an appeal, if your application is denied. You also will need to plan for medical insurance through the application period and while you are waiting for Medicare coverage to begin (approximately two years from the SSDI approval date).
- Disability benefits are often modest and a fraction of predisability earnings. Find out how much your monthly disability benefit would be and whether you could cover your living expenses with that amount of money. You can determine your approximate disability income by referring to your last Social Security statement (now available online) or by calling the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213.
- If you are struggling at work due to your condition, disability income may not be your only option. You may be able to keep working with a job accommodation. This might include a modification or adjustment to a job or work environment that will allow you to perform the essential functions of your position. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, covered employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. If you are unsure about what type of accommodation you may need, the Job Accommodation Network is a great source of information. Check out the website or call 800-526-7234.
- If you can’t continue to work even with accommodations, consider other jobs you may be able to do with the same or different employer. The Social Security Administration considers not only your medical condition, but your age, education, past work experience and skills. A vocational rehabilitation counselor can help you explore your employment options or conduct a job search. Counselors can be found in rehabilitation clinics, hospitals, private practice and government state agencies, like the Washington Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Social Security: Benefits for People with Disabilities
National MS Society: Social Security Disability Insurance