"A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members."
~ Mahatma Ghandi
A friend of mine once said that applying for Social Security Disability felt like she was declaring herself legally dead.
In our culture, what you do is who you are and if you can't work anymore, it can feel as if you're not a real person. Add the not-so-subtle stereotype that if you can't support yourself, you're a leech on society and the whole thing can make you want to go back to bed and hide under the covers.
New treatments have done much to change the prognosis of people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, especially those who are more recently diagnosed. However, in the 2008 GeneRAtions study, 90% of people with RA said that the disease affected their work in some way. And sometimes, it interferes substantially. Sometimes, your body just can't do it anymore.
But there is no shame in not being able to do it anymore. When Gayle Backstrom, author of I'd Rather Be Working: a Step-By-Step Guide to Financial Self-Support for People with Chronic Illness, conducted interviews with people living with a variety of chronic illnesses about employment, almost all said that they would rather be working -- it's how Gayle found the title for her book. Contributing gives meaning to your life and supporting yourself gives you a sense of pride. But sometimes, you have to find meaning elsewhere. You have to remind yourself that you paid taxes to help others and now it's your turn to be helped. Receiving SSD means you get Medicare and, with the cost of RA medications, this can be an essential part of improving your health. Moreover, as an SSD recipient, you may qualify for vocational rehabilitation training which can help you find another career so you can go back to working, supporting yourself and paying taxes to help others who have no choice.
However, before you get there, you have to steel yourself for a difficult journey. Between filling out forms attesting to being unable to pursue "gainful employment" and letters from doctors detailing your limitations and how there are no expectations of improvement, there's nothing quite like applying for SSD to bring you up against the reality of your condition. No wonder so many wait to apply until they absolutely can't wait any longer. Unfortunately, waiting too long can make it much harder. It takes time for your application to wind its way through the bureaucratic process and the unfortunate reality is that many applicants get denied at first. In many states, the rate of initial denial of an SSD claim can be over 60%. The appeals process is lengthy as well. If you don't apply until you absolutely can't work anymore, the financial consequences can be devastating.
How to Get Started
It's normal to feel overwhelmed by the Social Security application process, but you don't have to figure it all out yourself. There's a wonderful site called Disability Secrets where you can find all the information you need to better understand the process and to make the whole thing easier. Among other things, they suggest a few things you can do yourself to help your claim: