Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Long, Treacherous Road to Social Security Disability Benefts

"AnD the KinG will answer them, "Truly, I say to you, as YOU did it to one of the LEAST of these >my brothers,< you did it to ME." (Matthew 25:40)

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To say that qualifying to Federal Social Security Disability Benefits is hard is a gross understatement of the reality disabled Americans actually face today. For all of you taxpayers out there worried that the system is being abused by people who "simply don't want to work," you can rest assured that nowadays, it is nearly impossible--and not to mention excruciatingly stressful, difficult and drawn-out--for people with real disabilities to qualify, let alone someone who is lying and also lazy. Qualifying for SSI (Social Security Insurance) is not the kind of quest a truly lazy person would take on, trust me. It takes YEARS of hundreds of nagging, unpleasant phone calls, enduring tons of rude behavior from just about everybody to the Social Security employees to your own "advocate," piles and piles and PILES of paperwork, and a whole lot of sleepless nights, prayers, and tears to complete.

You will never understand the SHAME of not being able to WORK until, by the grace of God,
you are there yourself one day.

And the energy and risk one would have to put into the lying it would take to make up a believable disability? Oh, get real. Also not for the lazy, nor for the stupid, nor for those who fear prison. The massive amount of officially notarized documentation that is required to even apply for SSI, much less qualify, would necessitate DOZENS of professionals perjuring themselves and risking ruining their careers and lives just so you could receive a few hundred dollars a month.


Who would have to lie for this lazy scheme?

1) Doctors would have to falsify medical records, x-rays and/or therapy sessions, failed treatments, make up physical and/or emotional limitations, and flat out LIE in signed letters to judges and lawyers (you do know it's illegal to lie to judges, right?) It doesn't end there. 2) Previous employers & coworkers would also have to lie to those same judges and lawyers about your behavior at work, claiming that you weren't able to do your job and either were fired for it or were about to be fired for it. And finally 3) YOU & your lawyer would have to lie, too, and under oath.


 (psst... that's a felony)
And you ALL have to be telling EXACTLY the SAME LIES EVERY TIME and those lies have to match up with the falsified medical records and imagery and letters and notarized statements from everybody else.

Now remember, it's the job of a judge to sniff out a liar, so you and your team of liars had best be the absolute BEST of the WORST, or it's prison time and felony records for everyone just so that you can stay home and eat dog food because there is no way you can afford anything else on SSI alone. So the next time you have a five-minute conversation with someone who happens to be on disability and you think that by with one small interaction, you are able to accurately judge them as "just lazy and totally being able to work..."

Remind yourself that you're being a judgmental jerk
who doesn't know everything about them, their bodies or brains,
and read the 8th Commandment and its meaning. Again.
You should probably tape it to your mirror.


Because guess what. The vast, vast, VAST MAJORITY of us are truly very, very ill and/or injured and incurable/untreatable. Believe me when I say those of us who are truly disabled would give ANYTHING to be able to get up and go to work like a normal person, like we used to because it's easier, I wouldn't have to be sick and in pain every day, and it pays better.
But we can't. That's the point.
I'm sorry if that offends you.
Wait, no I'm not. You're an ass if that offends you.
And our medical bills are astronomical: mine alone are around $100,000 a year every year, with countless doctor visits and hundreds of tests and procedures and dozens of medications and week-long hospital stays every 2 months or so combined with the insane cost of medical care in our country. What's more I, like many of others, stupidly assumed I would be healthy and able to work until retirement age and went ahead and stupidly got myself a college and graduate school education with the help of loans. I also have people who depend on me to help out with food, shelter, and clothing, to take them to the doctor and dentist and get haircuts and whatnot.

What would you have me and those like me...
too sick to work, too young to have saved enough $$$ for early retirement, and not independently wealthy
...do? Lie down in the street and die?

Maybe you would, but don't go around calling yourself a "Christian." Jesus won't believe it a second, and it will probably make Him pretty mad. Our families simply aren't able to cover the cost of our existence, and though some philosophies really would have us put to death, like Hitler's, and maybe you agree with them, but the fact is that we need your help. We need the help we paid into all those years we were able to be "gainfully employed" and were taxed for it. And now, because the system was once abused by n'er-do-wells, we have to fight (yes, FIGHT) for that help.

Make no mistake: the Social Security system is still being abused.
It's just being abused from the other side.
Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say
the SSI system is ABUSIVE.

So in hopes of making it easier for some who so desperately need it, here are a few things I wish someone had told me, but I had to learn from my multiple battles with the system and the people who abuse that system from the other side. I hope these tips might help you in your fight to survive.

1) GIVE IT UP TO GOD.
You can't control this. This is out of your hands. All you can do is your best, but the fact is, you might never qualify for SSI. Not everyone who needs that help gets it, the same with every system meant to help people. So TRUST that God will take care of you and our family in some way, know that He will make some good come out of this unimaginable disappointment. SSI is not your God. It will make life easier in some ways, but it will not solve all your problems, and it will not get you into heaven. That is what Jesus is for. Please read and re-read Matthew 6:25-34 and Luke 12:22-34 for comfort and reassurance, and continue to pray in every moment that you can for God to give you whatever it is that you need.
2) GET A LAWYER.
Yes, they take up to $6,000 of your back-payments, but if you lose: you owe them nothing. And you can't win without them. It's almost as if the government and lawyers are working hand to mouth in this situation, but it's the truth. Disability lawyers know the game: and it is a game. They know what to say and what not to say. They know each judge's approval percentage, and they know what each judge likes to hear. They do the paperwork. They get your medical records to the right place (hopefully). They train you in what language to use in your hearing and tell you what evidence you need.

3) ASK FOR LETTERS.
Very concise, very short letters from your doctors stating 1) Your diagnosis (including dates) 2) Your prognosis 3) Your compliance with all your failed treatments 4) Their belief that you cannot be "gainfully employed" and stating exactly what incurable symptoms are the cause are GOLD. Ask for them. BEG for them. Cry. Do whatever it takes.
All you want is the truth in writing with their signature at the bottom.
Letters from specialists are great, but specialists tend to be very reluctant to write them and will even charge you as much as $400 for one freaking paragraph stating the truth about your ongoing debilitating illness that they failed to cure. So, ask their nurse. Nurses are a heck of a lot more reasonable than the specialists they work for (no offense, just speaking from personal experience). Nurses can write a letter from the information in your chart and ask the specialist to sign it. There's nothing wrong with that.
Your Primary Care Physician's opinion will mean a lot as well because he or she is generally the doctor who knows you the best, and therefore is more likely write an honest letter regarding your condition. Letters from your previous or current employers or coworkers are good, too. Make sure to tell them not to spare your feelings so they don't sugarcoat the fact that you were fired because you couldn't do your job, or that they had to cover for you up to 10 times a day while you were in the bathroom or unable to finish a task or couldn't sit at your desk due to pain... You might want a letter from close family members who can testify to the fact that they have to do your laundry because you can't bend over, or they have to drive you everywhere, cook for you, mow your lawn, watch your kids, pay your bills...
It hurts to read those letters. When I first read mine, I cried for 2 days. But it was all true. I wasn't going to get better, I had lost my career, and I was a huge burden to my family. Keep all the original letters FOREVER! Only send out copies! Make sure the letters are all signed and dated.
4) BE KIND.
Jesus commands it (Luke 6:27-36). Always be as friendly and as kind as is humanly possible to EVERYONE: doctors, nurses, operators, receptionists, your lawyer or advocate, and even the often super-rude SSI employees. People are far more likely to help someone who is nice to them. It's human nature. Yelling and swearing is not only sinful, it's not the way to get things done. If someone made a stupid mistake that cost you bigtime and won't even admit to it and apologize (like failed to file your address change so you were overdue getting your paperwork to the judge... Grrr...) try your best to be understanding and merciful, and embrace the attitude of "stuff happens" even if you want to slam the phone through the wall and ask the person how their parents took it when they failed out of clown college. Pray. A lot. Especially before you make a phone call. Like this:
Holy Spirit, sanctify my heart:
wipe all anger from it before I start;
Guide my lips and let them be
filled only with words that please Thee.

5) BE HONEST.
The judge doesn't want to know about your worst days. He wants an average: what is your life like MOST of the time. Don't tell him that nothing helps your pain, or that your pain is at a 10 all the time. That's just not true and the judge is going to smell a rat damn quick. You do not have to exaggerate your illness or injury if you are to the point of applying for SSI. Don't blame your doctors (unless a Dr.'s mistake is what landed you a disability, of course). No getting angry. Show the judge that you can take responsibility for you, and you have tried it all and SSI is that last thing that you want to need.
But you don't want to do the opposite either and make your situation sound better than it is. To avoid that, use simple, literal (but respectful) language when describing your condition and how it affects your life: DON'T use euphemisms. DON'T say, "I have to use the bathroom 15 times a day." DO say, "I have an average of 15 urgent bowel movements per day, each one forces me to spend 5-10 minutes in the bathroom." DON'T say, "I have accidents in public." DO say, "I defecate on myself an average of 5 times a week when I am not able to be on a toilet within 30 seconds of feeling the urge to have a bowel movement." DON'T say, "I can't play with my kids." DO say, "I can't rock my 1 year old to sleep due to the stabbing pains in my back whenever I try to sit upright."
Yes, it's embarrassing (especially with my disease, yuck. Sorry.) but it's TRUE and the judge is going to see that embarrassment and that regret, that, "Oh my God, I can't believe I'm telling a judge all this horrible stuff about me..." that you can't fake.
6) RESEARCH, PREPARE, REHEARSE
You can never, ever be too prepared. Yes, I know it hurts and you feel awful and you just want to be in bed, and that this is some of the hardest work you will ever have to do, but you have to do it. Be sure you can qualify before you apply: know how much you've paid into the system, if it's not enough, you get nothing. Learn what "gainfully employed" actually means and decide with your doctor(s) if you truly cannot meet those requirements based on your skills or lack thereof, the number of sick days you need to take, or your inability to stand or sit for certain periods of time, and so on. Practice talking to the judge. Write down things you don't want to forget to say and bring it with you.
Here are some websites to help you more.
7) ASSUME ALL MAIL WILL GET LOST.
If you have to mail something to either side, send it "Delivery Confirmation" and GLUE that confirmation of delivery receipt to your fridge. If you have to fax it, keep that fax confirmation sheet and file it. Just trust me on this. There is a black hole between us, our lawyers, and SSI offices where all our mail seems to end up. Save yourself some stress. It's worth the money.
8) DOCUMENT EVERYTHING.
Do this religiously. Record phone calls if you can with both sides. If you can't, type up a quick transcript. Put names and dates on EVERYTHING: who you spoke to, when, and at what time. Take down their operator number if they have one. I sadly cannot tell you how many times EACH SIDE denied conversations that took place, as well as what was said in those conversations (how sad is that?? but oh so true). Keep all correspondence, copies of whatever you send and all the papers that you receive regarding your SSI claim and file them, no matter how trivial.


9) CALL AND NAG LIKE A JEALOUS GIRLFRIEND.
I hate to say this, but honestly, the SSI system is so backed up and the people are not at all well trained, thus, assume NO ONE will do their job, not even your lawyer or advocate. Call each side at least once a month to make sure all the information is getting where it needs to be, all the medical records requests are coming in. Call to make sure SSI hasn't put your case on the back burner (like they did mine for 120 days instead of the "promised" 60 for the first appeal). Call, call, call, but be as nice as you can possibly be.
If the person working on your case mysteriously cannot be reached via phone, borrow someone else's phone. The SSI employee responsible for my first appeal that was delayed TWICE as long as it should have been (no reason or apology given, of course) memorized my phone number and wouldn't pick up when I called him. So, I used my husband's phone and he answered immediately. (I am not making this up). I remarked as nicely as I could how odd it was that he couldn't be reached with my phone, but picked up when a new phone number show up on his caller ID not 30 seconds later. Once again, no apology, no explanation, not even any embarrassment. Just plain abuse
I hope you're beginning to get the picture of what you are up against: a whole lot of uncaring people with no moral compass or basic sense of human decency who assume we are unworthy of their time and attention. We are barely "human" to them. Grow a thick skin.
10) DON'T GIVE UP UNTIL THE BITTER END.
You'd be surprised how many times you can appeal your SSI decisions. DO NOT GIVE UP UNTIL THE SOMEWHAT OVERWEIGHT LADY SINGS because it isn't over until it's over. And then you can always reapply. Oh joy of joys.
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May God bless you and your hard work
and give you peace. 
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"This is the message that you have heard from the BeGinninG, that we should LOVE one another... Whoever does not love abides in DEATH... By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to LAY down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods AND sees his brother in need, yet >>>closes his Heart against him<<< how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in DeeD and in TruTH. (from 1 John 3:11-18)