This is the 6th article in a series designed to explain the Social Security and SSI disability application process and to provide helpful information to individuals applying for those benefits. An application for Social Security disability benefits should be filed as soon as the person believes he or she will not be able to work for medical reasons for at least 12 consecutive months. You can apply by calling Social Security’s toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 or online at: www.ssa.gov.
I am working now. What do I need to consider if my medical condition worsens and I’m forced to stop working?
Our general advice is to work as long as you can. There are many reasons to do so. First, your earnings will almost always be greater than your disability benefits. Second, you will maintain your employment benefits such as health insurance. Third, there is no guarantee that you will qualify for either private or Social Security disability benefits. The application process can be lengthy, particularly for Social Security, where it can take a minimum of three months and often times over a year or more to qualify for and receive benefits. Depending on the amount of benefits that are available, you still might be better off working part-time. If your company has short term disability benefits, you can use those while you decide whether or not you can return to work. If you have long term disability insurance, the policy will specify how long you must be unable to work before qualifying for those benefits. To qualify for Social Security benefits, you must be able to demonstrate an inability to work for at least twelve (12) consecutive months. It is therefore more difficult to qualify for Social Security benefits than it is for some private disability benefits.
If my health prevents me from continuing work, what arrangements, if any, should I make for my separation from employment?
If your health prevents you from working, you want to make sure that your employer knows this. If you needed to take time off from work leading up to your separation, letters from your doctor explaining your absences would be good things to have in your employment record. In general, you want your employment record to reflect the fact that you have been unable to continue working due to your health condition.
What role should my doctors play in my decision to stop working?
Ultimately, the decision to stop working is a complex one and one that normally only you can make. In terms of supporting your application for private or Social Security disability benefits, however, it is extremely helpful if you can have a note from your doctor to give to your employer explaining that your health condition no longer permits you to work. If you cannot obtain such a letter or it is not required by your employer, ask your doctor to write into your treatment records either: 1) that he or she supports your decision to stop working for medical reasons; or 2) that he or she has encouraged you to stop working for medical reasons.
Once I have made my decision to stop working, what are my next steps?
First, discuss this subject with your doctor and try to get your doctor’s support and have his support written into your treatment records (as discussed above). Second, plan the date that you will stop working and the notice that you will give to your employer. Third, apply for the benefits that you are eligible for. The benefits that may be available are short term disability, long term disability and Social Security disability. You may be able to apply for short term disability while you are still working but you will have to have stopped working before you apply for long term disability or Social Security disability. You also must consider how you are going to pay for your medical care after you stop working. Continued medical care will be essential not only for your health but for your private or Social Security disability claims. If you are unable to purchase continuing medical insurance through your employer or obtain it through your spouse or other family member, the only other medical insurance available may be through public assistance (state health insurance known as Medicaid). It is important that you have a way to continue to pay for your medical treatment while your disability claim is pending.
If you or someone you know has any questions about disability benefits, call the Disability and Injury Law Offices of David R. Machek for a free consultation at: 215-886-0398 or email us at: [email protected]. The Disability and Injury Law Offices of David R. Machek maintains offices in center city Philadelphia and Jenkintown, PA. The Disability and Injury Law Offices of David R. Machek focuses its law practice exclusively on Social Security disability matters. For more information, please visit our website: www.disabilitylawpa.com