Applying for Disability

Applying for Social Security Disability can be both frustrating and time-consuming. It is a complicated process that requires attention to detail and full disclosure. Most applicants are denied benefits for their first application and it can take months or years to win benefits through appeals. Unfortunately, autonomic disorders are not a listed category under the Social Security Administration, which means that you will have to gather extra documentation to demonstrate your disability. In approximately 25% of people with POTS, maintaining employment is impossible and applying for disability is appropriate.

When you file your claim, the Social Security Administration will assess your physical, cognitive, and mental impairments to discern whether they prevent you from working. It is important to list and describe ALL of your symptoms in detail. Medical records will be assessed and decisions will be made about how your symptoms affect your ability to perform at even the most sedentary jobs. The Social Security Administration will then match your Residual Functional Capacity Assessment (what you can still do) with your past employment skills, education, and age to see what jobs you can safely perform.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) EligibilityDisability

This is available for people who can no longer work due to physical or mental disability. You must have a significant work history with employers that paid Social Security (FICA) taxes. If you are 31 or older, you must have worked five of the last 10 years. If you are 24-31, you must have worked at least half the time since turning 21. If you are under 24, you must have worked at least 1.5 years in the three years before disability.

Family members of workers who are eligible for SSDI are also eligible. Since I qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance, when my daughter becomes an adult and is too sick to work, she will also be eligible even if she has never been employed.

SSDI does NOT limit your assets or unearned income (spouse’s income, investments, or interest). However, there is a limit on the money you can earn while receiving disability benefits. If you are well enough to earn income, then you are no longer considered disabled. If you can earn more than $1,090 in a month, you are not eligible for disability insurance.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Eligibility

This is available for disabled people who have never worked or not worked enough to qualify for SSDI, those who are no longer eligible for SSDI because they haven’t worked in a long time, or for children with physical or mental disabilities. Applicants must meet both income and asset limits.

This program is designed for low income individuals who are blind, disabled, or elderly. SSI limits your assets and unearned income (spouse’s income, investments, or interest). For a single person, if the countable assets exceed $2,000, that person will not be eligible for SSI. If married, the countable assets cannot exceed $3,000. In 2015, the federal benefit rate was $733 for individuals and $1100 for couples. If you can earn more than $1,090 in a month, you are not eligible for supplemental security income.

Getting Started

Schedule a disability interview at your local Social Security Administration.

Prepare for the disability interview before you go. These interviews are typically 90 minutes or more. 

  • Birth certificate, citizenship papers or alien status
  • Work history. What types of employment did you have in the 15 years prior to becoming disabled?
    • Dates of employment
    • Job titles
    • Detailed descriptions of the tasks performed
  • Names, addresses, phone numbers, and treatment dates of your
    • Physicians
    • Clinics
    • Hospitals
  • Personal information about marriages, divorces, and children
  • Financial information. The claims representative will ask about your income and assets (bank accounts, life insurance, land, trust funds, stocks/bonds, retirement funds, cash)
  • Get your medical records together to submit when you apply for disability
    • List all medical conditions, both physical and mental. Most successful disability cases are won on the basis of several conditions presented by the applicant
    • Include all symptoms. Never minimize your pain, brain fog, or other symptoms because this could be used against you in their decision
    • A letter from your specialist commenting on both the physical issues you have AND how they impact your functional capacity for employment
    • Describe your worst days in all paperwork and testimony.  While some argue that not every day is awful, chronic illnesses wax and wane and sometimes progress. By describing an average day, you are not making your best case for why you cannot work. Employers are not happy with someone who has one or two good days a week or even a month. Our disabilities spring from those worst days.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Collecting unemployment while waiting for disability
  • Working while applying for disability
  • Lack of preparation for Social Security disability hearing
  • Not alleging mental conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc.
  • Not pursuing your medical and/or emotional problems with a physician or other trained professional
  • Sticking with an unsupportive doctor. You need their support in this process – if they won’t write a good letter for Social Security on your behalf, move on!
  • Separately answering the activities of daily living sheet sent to you and a third party that you designated. Answers on this form are the basis for many disability denials.
  • Appealing without the assistance of an attorney or advocate
  • Waiting for a letter from the Social Security Administration past the 90 days of filing deadline
  • Missing disability appeal deadlines

Application approved?

It is a triumph when your disability application gets approved!  Take a little time to celebrate the fruits of your labor.  The process does not end with this approval, however.  Reviews will be conducted every few years to assess whether or not you still qualify for disability.  Maintain a good relationship with a supportive physician as you will need documentation of your illness upon review (typically every five years).  These reviews are a multi-step process with appeals available if benefits are denied. Benefits will be continued during this process, but any benefits paid during the appeals process must be repaid to the SSA should the final decision be unfavorable.

Application denied?

Don’t panic! Most people currently on disability were denied benefits on their first application too. Hire a qualified Social Security Disability attorney or advocate to advise you in filing accurately and punctually. Appeal the Social Security Administration’s decision immediately – you only have 60 days to appeal and 5 mailing days from when you mail in the reconsideration. If you miss this deadline, you must begin an entirely new application.

There are multiple chances for appeal through the Social Security Administration.  If benefits are denied after the initial application, appeal that decision.  If the benefits are denied a second time, you will get a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge.  It is highly recommended to use an attorney for this hearing to help you tell your story.

Resources when Applying for Medical Disability

Disability Evaluation under Social Security

Social Security Disability Webinars

POTS and Social Security Disability

Facts about Dysautonomia and Filing for Disability

Social Security Disability for Dysautonomia: Filing and Getting Benefits

Moving from Disability Back into the Workforce

Red Book: A Summary Guide to Employment Supports for Persons with Disabilities under the Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income Programs

Social Security: Working while Disabled – How We Can Help