Disclaimer: I’m a lawyer in Florida only and this post is about my personal experiences applying for disability benefits. Nothing in this post or in any of my other posts should be considered legal advice. If you have legal questions, you should get in touch with a legal professional with experience in the issues you need help with.
When I was diagnosed with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC), I realized very quickly that the stress I’d been carrying as the owner of a law firm was not something that could continue. Since my husband and I prepared well, I have a private disability policy that is quite comprehensive along with disability riders that mean we don’t have to continue paying for the life insurance policies that will fund my trust and provide funds for my husband and my boys after I die. The private policy gave us the freedom to do what needed to be done and for my husband to not carry as much of the financial burden. We did set up our lives based on two incomes, after all.
And yet, I knew that I’d paid into social security while I have been working (since 16) and that I could access those benefits as well. I’d worked a bit with public benefits when I was working with children in foster care as a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) or Attorney ad Litem (AAL), so I knew enough to be dangerous. It took a little research and some time gathering my medical information and I was able to apply for benefits from the comfort of my own home.
The first item I researched was eligibility. The good news about having a terminal illness and applying for disability is that there isn’t a need to prove my limitations, the things that are still hard to do. Based on my diagnosis, I was eligible for funds and also eligible for a more expedited review. The bad news about my eligibility is that there is a waiting period of five (5) months. Abolishing this waiting period is one of the subjects of a bill still pending in Congress as it literally makes very little sense. Once one has MBC, there’s no coming back from that.
The second item I researched was when I should apply. After that 5 month period expired, there wasn’t a proscribed timeline, but I learned that I could only get twelve (12) months of back pay. I was officially diagnosed with MBC in June of 2017, so the initial 5 month waiting period ended in December of 2017. In order to get all the possible funds, I had to then apply no later than December of 2018 otherwise there would be funds that I would never receive. So, that’s what I did.
When I was actively practicing law, the children who received disability benefits for themselves or the children who were dependents on someone who was receiving disability benefits and thus received derivative benefits, made calculating child support quite complicated. From that experience, I knew that my two (2) boys would be entitled to their own derivative benefits because of accessing mine. I had this in the back of my mind as I worked to gather the information I needed to apply.
When I sat down to fill out the online disability application at SSA.gov, I had too much information! I literally copied and mailed over 200 pages of medical records, also way too much. At the same time, I wasn’t worried that I missed anything! The application took me over an hour to fill out and while I had everything I needed to fill it out, I did have to do a lot of looking and hunting for specific dates and information.
Once I had filled out the application, then I settled in to wait. In my research, I found that the initial review was supposed to occur within thirty (30) days and I set an alert to ensure that it indeed happened. It didn’t, no huge shocker there. I had to call and follow up and discovered that the initial review had never happened and my information had not been sent for review by a medical professional. That happened the day I called and within a week or so, the initial funds arrived.
The process was relatively painless and I’ve not been hit with the request to review the benefits I’m receiving, yet. One thing I discovered while working with foster children is that there are some times when you just need a lawyer who knows the lay of the land. Normally, the lawyers who assist people with applying for social security are paid a percentage of what they are able to obtain for the client. The lawyers who work with me through my non-profit have committed to handling at least one disability case (meaning the ones that go to court) per year for free for a stage IV patient. Super helpful in cases where the social security office isn’t doing the right thing.