I was refused based on the chronic pain even though I am taking Methadone for it based on my allergies and sensitivity to several medications. I cannot practice as a nurse on narcotics but my pain doc (not this one, the second one - or was it the third one?) told me I could get an exemption. I asked him if he'd like someone on Methadone who sleeps half the day or more taking care of his mom, or his kid, or his wife, and he looked at me like I was insane. Still, he insisted this wasn't something that qualified me as disabled, and the SSA agreed. They said I was impaired, not disabled. Well, impaired nurses can go to prison. Never mind that my attention span is about 5 minutes long, that I can nod off sitting up talking to someone, and that I forget things a minute after I see or say them; I wasn't safe practicing as a nurse and I knew it.
You have to have worked at least 10 "quarters" or "credits" in the last 10 years to qualify for disability if you are 31 or older. I'm not sure how long you've been out of work; this might influence whether you qualify for Federal disability payments or if you need to apply for SSI.
85%-90% of all applicants are denied the first time around. It is one way they filter out slackers. Unfortunately, it also does a lot of damage to people who need the benefits and are truly disabled. It is important for you to ask for a hearing as soon as you are denied. Then, you start collecting what you will need to back up your claim.
- Get copies of ALL your medical records from each doctor who has treated your disability. Your primary doc, a neurologist, a cardiologist, a psychiatrist, a pain doc, a surgeon - anyone you've seen. The Freedom of Information Act states that if you ask, in writing, for a copy of your medical records, they are required to provide them within 30 days. They cannot refuse. They can charge you a "reasonable" fee for copying - I had to pay my primary doc's office $15; none of the other docs charged me anything. Go through and make sure you're not missing important stuff like what meds you're on, what your diagnosis is, how often you visit, any emergency calls, that kind of stuff.
- Request copies of any and all scans, x-rays, lab tests, biopsies, or the like that confirm your diagnosis. Again, request it in writing and sign the request. Ask the place that did them if you can remember. It cuts out the middle man.
- Make a list of all your meds and when you take them. List side effects - it makes you sleepy, makes you stupid, makes you clumsy, affects your coordination, affects your ability to drive, affects your sleep/wake cycle, and so on.
- Keep a medication diary. What do you take when? List PRN meds and why you need them as well as how they make you feel and if you get the relief you need.
- Keep a daily diary. What's your normal day like? Are you limited by your condition/situation? Can you drive? Can you do what needs to be done at home without reminders or assistance? Have members of your family had to pick up the slack between what you used to do and what you can do now? How is your life today compared to how it was before you got sick? Do you miss out on family celebrations....birthday parties, Christmas, reunions, that kind of thing? Can you tolerate the things you used to tolerate?
- Keep your appointments. If you need to cancel or reschedule, keep track of when and why. Call the doc and explain what's going on; don't just blow off an appointment if you feel crappy. Put it in your diary.
- Make copies of all the paperwork you have and send it to Social Security. There are copiers in their offices that you can use for free so you don't have to pay for the copies. Keep the office up to date on all the changes in your case. They won't come looking for this, and they make their decision based on what they have in front of them.
- Don't give up. Prepare for a fight. Determine how far you are willing to go before hiring an attorney. I decided that if I didn't make it on my first hearing I would go ahead and get one. It turned out I didn't need it. I got approved after the letter my shrink sent to the judge after my first hearing.