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What I Didn't Expect When I Applied for Disability Benefits

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I’ve been on disability now since 2013, and I don’t often share my experience applying for it because it was very atypical, and it can sometimes make me feel a little guilty because the process went so easily for me.

I had been seriously ill since 2008, and my medical bills were steadily mounting by the time I finally decided my only responsible option in taking care of my situation was to apply for disability benefits. In 2013, I had just been diagnosed with gastroparesis, but had been struggling since 2008 with sphincter of Oddi dysfunction, pancreatic sphincter dysfunction, and chronic pancreatitis after having my vagus nerve nicked during a routine cholecystectomy.

When I applied for my benefits, I did so in an incredibly naïve fashion, simply assuming I could handle everything on my own. I never considered engaging a disability attorney, and I never even went down to the disability office in person. I merely went to my state’s site online and filled out the required information there. It was all very cut and dry for me.

By then, I’d heard horror stories about applying for disability benefits from friends in online support groups. I knew I would likely have to go through years of appeals, and the time would come when I would probably have to hire an attorney. Really, I had very little idea of what the process would be for me once it was set in motion, but I just trusted that since my paperwork was in, I would be advised of the next steps when the time came.

Thankfully, for me, that time never did come. As I mentioned in the beginning, my experience was incredibly atypical, so I don’t want anyone reading this to think that what happened for me with disability is the way things go, because it definitely isn’t. I filled out all of my paperwork in March of 2013, and by August of 2013, the SSA was sending me my first benefits check as well as back pay. So just in case I did something right in applying for my benefits to expedite the process in this fashion, I’ll let you all know exactly how I did it.

First of all, I was extremely brief in answering the questions on my application. I didn’t expound in any great detail about what had happened to me, and I didn’t make any attempt to elicit sympathy from whoever might read my case. For one thing, there was a lot of paperwork to fill out, so adding details and fleshing out my story wasn’t expedient to begin with. For another thing, I figured the people who read this paperwork likely read hundreds of accounts much worse or much better than mine every month, and didn’t need to hear my situation as some great sob story. I was simply truthful and brief about what had happened. I figured if they wanted more detail, they would ask to talk with me in person about it later, either that, or they could contact my physicians about it.

The most important thing I did was to be very thorough in supplying my physicians’ information. I had been to see several different doctors in trying to obtain a diagnosis in the beginning, right after my botched surgery. Though it was a hassle to go back and find it all, I made sure to supply contact information for every single one of those doctors. I think what was most helpful for me was that I had been receiving treatment through the University of Michigan Gastroenterology Clinic since 2009, and they kept extremely detailed records of everything they had done for me, especially the progression of my condition.

At the time I applied for disability, I honestly didn’t think I would be approved – not right away, anyway. I knew I wasn’t as ill as a lot of friends I who’d applied and been denied, or who’d been through years and years of appeals before being approved. But because U of M was so thorough and forthcoming with their record-keeping, I honestly feel like they did me the greatest service in helping to expedite this process. All doctors keep records, so that’s not the issue, but I really feel like it was the way these records from U of M were kept, how well-managed they were, and how well they documented the progression of my illness from 2009 to 2013, that helped to explain to the SSA why I was a good candidate for disability. So even though I might not have seemed as ill as some other applicants, there was a clear demonstration from a reputable healthcare provider that my condition was progressing steadily, and I would not improve.

I believe it was mainly because of these factors that my experience with disability was so atypical. And to be honest, the disbursement of my disability could not have come at a better time than it did. Although I didn’t feel I was so terribly ill at the time, my conditions have continued to progress, and as it stands now, there is no way I would be able to work or provide for myself. My disability benefits now provide for palliative care as well as well as other life-sustaining care I could never have foreseen at the time I applied for it.

Whether or not to apply for disability is a difficult choice for anyone to make. It’s an entire change in lifestyle, and an admission that your condition may never change or get better. But if it is necessary, it really is worth it. I can’t speak for those who have to walk the more difficult path of appeals and courtroom appearances in order to obtain their benefits, but I hope what I’ve been through can in some way be helpful to you.

Getty image by designer491.

Originally published: July 1, 2019
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