Disability: Private and Public
Disclaimer: I'm a licensed attorney in the State of Florida only. I do not pretend to understand the laws of any state other than Florida. Much of the post below is my interpretation and/or recommendations only and nothing constitutes legal advice to anyone. Please take all comments below with a grain of salt and do your own research!
With that said, I’m going to talk about my own experiences in an effort to educate others who might be seeking out disability benefits due to a diagnosis of Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. Everything is so very overwhelming and my bias is always that an attorney can really help with questions and guidance throughout the process; however, that can cost money, sometimes a percentage of benefits. There are also other very helpful people, social workers, nurses, etc., who can provide some assistance. Just be careful to put any advice you receive in its proper category.
Private disability is, at its core, an insurance policy. By getting one, before you have any sign of illness, you are betting that you will get sick one day and not be able to work. The company that issues the policy is betting that you will pay all of your premiums until you die and never access any benefits. Seriously, that’s what it is. Understanding these diametrically opposed positions can help put into context how often the people working for the private insurance companies fight paying any benefits, or look to ensure that benefits will stop at the earliest possible time.
It helps, yes, to remind yourself of this bias, at the same time, it also feels extremely personal. I knew this when I applied for my private benefits and yet it was still a shot to the gut and heart when there was resistance. I do live in Florida, which is arguably one of the most prevalent areas for insurance fraud, so that could have been part of it.
My biggest recommendations for dealing with a private disability insurance carrier are:
The people working for the insurance company are not your friends, they are not on your side, and they are probably incentivized to pay out as little as possible. Remember this, in all your dealings.
Know your benefits
Review your policy and earmark the pages and provisions that apply to you. I quote my policy to my insurance company all the time.
Have your proof ready and keep detailed notes of what and when you do things.
If you are an adult working and paying into Social Security for the requisite amount of consecutive quarters and you have a terminal diagnosis, you are likely to be eligible for Social Security Disability. Generally, there is a five (5) month waiting period after diagnosis. You do get benefits back to the date that is 6 months after your diagnosis up to 12 months.
This can be a little complicated, so let me give you all the play by play from what I did.
I was diagnosed with metastatic in late June of 2017. I didn’t apply for SSDI benefits until December of 2018. My benefits would have begun December of 2017 (6 months after my diagnosis) and so, received a lump sum for the 12 months (December of 2017 to December of 2018).
Applying online or in person
You have two options for the application, apply online or apply in person. I applied online and it wasn’t too complicated. The main thing that you need is a note or letter from your doctor with the diagnosis. I sent a lot of medical records, lots more than were needed and they promptly misplaced them. I’ve found that faxing is better than mailing when it comes to the SS office down here in Miami. Getting anyone on the phone is a bit difficult too. There was a separate office that reviewed my medical records and then I was approved.
Don’t forget that if you have dependents, then you might be entitled to funds for the kiddos. My boys get a monthly infusion into their college funds, which will continue until they are 18. It's not much, but it is something I can leave behind for them.
I look at Social Security Disability as my money. I paid in, quite a bit, and now I’m simply getting the funds I paid in, back, when we need it the most.
Eligibility for social security disability
One last thing - it is normal for your eligibility for Social Security Disability to be reviewed every 3-5 years. This is NORMAL. I see women talking about being worried and scared and asking questions about why there is a review. The protocols simply don't allow for this regular review to not happen. It usually has nothing to do with the individual or the specific diagnosis. I always encourage people receiving disability to not worry, but to rely on their doctor for proof of the diagnosis.
If all else fails, contact Connect IV Legal Services, Inc., (I work there) to help address questions and find lawyers to help pro bono for the rest.
Caregivers: Do you practice self-care?