If you have a medical condition or a disability that you believe may worsen over time, you may find it necessary to apply for Social Security disability benefits. Before that day comes, avoid some common mistakes.
- Don’t assume you will never apply for Social Security benefits. Denial is a great thing in some circumstances, but not if it prevents you from planning your future. While some medical conditions or disabilities occur without warning, others worsen over time. If you have a medical condition or disability that your doctors told you may worsen in the years to come, consider familiarizing yourself with the application process for Social Security disability benefits. Visit the Social Security Administration’s website to look up your condition or disability in the Blue Book, and find out as much information as you can about Social Security’s requirements in applying for benefits under the listing for your condition.
- Continue to work at your present job. If you have worked at your current job for a number of years, your employer is willing to make accommodations for your medical condition or disability and you are covered under your employer’s health insurance, it makes sense to keep your job as long as possible. If you are tempted to quit, even for another job, remember you may sacrifice seniority and your employer’s willingness to accommodate your disability, which makes your new job much less secure than the old job. Those who lose their jobs or quit their jobs without having another job lined up often find that the accommodation their previous employers were willing to provide are accommodations that prevent them from getting another job. Not only do you risk a loss of income, you risk losing your health insurance.
- If you can afford to see your doctors regularly, do it. It is important that you have an unbroken medical history when you apply for Social Security disability benefits. If your medical condition or disability is relatively stable, you may not think to schedule medical appointments. If you do not have health insurance or if you have limited income, you may be tempted not to spend the money to see your doctors. However, regardless of whether these appointments can improve your condition, they document the fact that you continue to suffer from your medical condition or disability and they document its severity and whether it remains stable or starts to deteriorate. You do not want to put yourself in the hands of Social Security’s evaluation specialists when it comes to proving the severity of your disabling condition.
- Keep your medical records and contact information. Start a file and keep the names, contact information, and related records for every doctor you see and every hospital or clinic you visit, including your patient id number. You can keep all this information on your computer or in a notebook. If and when you apply for Social Security disability benefits, you will be asked for this information, and gathering it as you go is much simpler than having to find it years after the fact.
- Keep a record of your employment. Social Security will ask you for your work history for 15 years prior to the time you apply for disability benefits. Again, it is much easier to collect this information as you go than to try and recreate your work history years afterward. Make a list of the company name, your supervisor, your position(s), dates worked, and contact information.
- Keep note of the date of your disability's onset. As soon as you know that you intend to file for benefits, notify the SSA and establish a protective filing date.
In working with the Social Security Administration, it is better to be pro-active than reactive, so take a realistic look at your situation and start planning for your future today.