Social Security is a hot topic when it comes to social services, and it is an incendiary political issue. If you are like I was you know the basic idea behind it but you've never had to worry about those types of services except for the fact that each pay check a little money comes out and is put toward your social security record and on occasion you get a statement telling you what your benefit amount would be if you were to reach retirement age or become disabled. What they fail to disclose is those benefits aren't as easy to get as your might be led to believe. I've had 2 experiences with Social Security and applying for benefits and they were polar opposites. One so simple and quick I had warm fuzzies and the other well lets just say bureaucracy is the nicest thing I had to say about the people, processes and policies at the Social Security Administration.
My son Emmanuel was born on the 31st of August 2001, his father and I were quickly notified that there was a problem with his heart and by the end of that night we learned our son was missing a major valve and would have to undergo 3 very risky open heart surgeries. Eman (nick name he acquired from his cardiologist) has his first heart related procedure at 2 days old, a cardiac catherization was needed to learn what his pressures in his heart were and it also allowed the Dr. to perform an atrial septostomy which was the tearing open of a valve that closes at birth, which would allow him to go a few more months before surgery. It became very clear very quickly that we would be looking at some serious medical bills despite both his father and I carrying insurance through our jobs. We were advised to apply for Medicaid to help pick up the costs that insurance didn't pay, a hospital social worker also recommended that we apply for Social Security for Emmanuel as he was considered disabled. We went into the local Social Security office a few weeks after we were released from the hospital, we met with a lady who asked a few questions, and within a week had his approval letter and his first check. It wasn't a large amount at that time, only about $35 per month but I had learned that if you only qualify for $1 of SSI you are eligible for Medicaid and that was a blessing. The Medicaid coverage was even back dated to cover the costs related to his birth I almost couldn't believe our luck it was the easiest thing ever. Too bad the next interaction I had the Social Security Administration was nothing like this one.
Fast forward 4 years, Soon after Eman's birth I became a single parent, he had his surgeries and was doing well but my health had been on a steady decline. I had just had my second back surgery while on medical leave from HP. I received disability via the company plan and still had my company health insurance but I was no longer an employee as I had been on leave over 1 year. I was contacted by the disability insurance and encouraged to apply for Social Security as it would help supplement the now 75% of my pay I was getting then. I applied and was denied within two weeks. I decided to take it as a sign that I should try to return to work, the only thing I failed to research was what would happen if my health didn't allow me to keep working. I was soon to learn what I had given up was no longer available to me. I was hired by T-Mobile but within 6 months I was on my back unable to work with no disability coverage through my job as I hadn't been there long enough. I recovered only to have the same thing happen 4 times. By 2008 it was made clear to me that my spine was spiraling from bad to worse and psoriatic arthritis was attacking all my joints , it was time to simply apply for Social Security Disability.
My 3 sons as I had been surviving on Eman's SSI payment and medicaid. I never suspected it would be for long. I believed I had a good case and I was certain I was entitled to benefits as I'd been paying into Social Security for almost 20 years. I applied in December of 2008 and was denied, I quickly filed an appeal and after about 6 months that was denied. I filed a second appeal and learned that the turn around time for that could be 24 months. After about 20 months that appeal was denied and I had to request a hearing with a judge, I decided it was time to get an attorney and let them deal with all the paper work and legal jargon. I didn't save myself any money they still ended up with 25% of the back pay entitled to me and my children. In late November 2010 I received notice to appear before an administrative law judge, my hearing was set for January 11, 2011. It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life, my lawyer who I'd not only never met but never spoken to despite trying to reach him the week before, was useless and sat silently beside me while I described my surgeries, my pain and explained why it made it impossible for me to keep a job. I sat before a panel that included the judge, a doctor, a nurse who specialized in vocational rehabilitation, and a court reporter. I cried through most of the sideshow, I still think I wore them down with tears. The battle was won and by February 2011 I was finally approved to collect Social Security Disability and receive Medicare.
As happy and relieved as I was to finally be finished battling Social Security, I believe I should not have had to fight for what was mine to begin with. I have learned from many people in a variety of organizations relating to health care, counseling, law, that denials are standard operating procedure at the Social Security Administration. The common belief is that the state run Idaho Disability Determinations are encouraged to deny first time claims regardless of the circumstances unless body parts are missing. I would like to research their policies and try to find out why I had to battle so long to have my claim approved .
I have a friend who is applying now after having cancer and having a 7lb tumor removed from her stomach, she can't eat without suffering extreme nausea followed by bouts of septicemia as the food sits in her body and rots. If she uses the medication to help move food through her digestive system she suffers from the neurological damage the medication causes. I pray she doesn't suffer the years of battles so common to disabled American's who try to use the benefit they've been paying for since they started working.
We often hear that Social Security is not going to be funded and that there isn't enough money to pay benefits for much longer but at the same time refugees are coming into our country and collecting SSI. Of course we can't sustain that type of mismanagement. My family had to overcome years of financial insecurity, going on welfare, and Section 8 housing because of the policies of Social Security. The only reason I didn't end up homeless with my children was because I had my parents who could take us in. I shudder when I think about where we might have ended up were it not for my mother and father.
Social Security as it is now is a flawed system in great need of repair but, it serves a purpose and it is all we have right now. Until companies invest in some kind of vocational rehab for their employees who become disabled and provide protection for employees if they try to go back to work but can't sustain it.
If you or a loved one need to apply for Social Security do your research, SSA.gov is a place to start but also ask questions on forums on other sites. If you are denied don't wait to get a lawyer, make them earn the big chunk of change they are going to grab when you finally get approved. Also, research attorneys, get a good one who will not only do a good job but one that will also take the time to explain the processes to you and give you peace of mind.
There are now other concerns I'm faced with recently like finding someone to come into my home to help with some of the things I'm no longer able to do. I hope getting signed up and approved for that isn't as challenging. I'm still learning the system, especially Medicare and everything is does and doesn't cover. Keeping up with the changes every year can be challenging and I learn something new every month. I live by one motto these days and it applies across all aspects of life, It is from my favorite book Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey "All knowledge is worth having".