Saturday, August 8, 2009

Helpful Government Worker Is NOT (Always) an Oxymoron

I have been thinking about applying for Social Security Disability Insurance for a long time now. While I hate the idea that my mystery illness is going to go on long enough to make it worth the effort to prove I qualify for it, it's been over two years that I've been almost entirely dysfunctional due to this illness.

I started the process last February, but got overwhelmed by the application and just let it sit unfinished until this week. But the website said that if I didn't get it filed within six months of initiating the process, I could be penalized. It didn't say exactly how, but I assume by adjusting the date of my benefits if/when I qualify.

The six-month deadline was Aug. 26, so I figured I really needed to get back to it. I got the application filed on Thursday and started work on my Adult Disability & Work History Report, where I essentially had to list every doctor, hospital, medical test, job, etc. I've had.

I spent a couple hours on it Thursday, and complained on Twitter that I didn't know how anyone who was sick enough to qualify for SSDI was capable of completing the process on their own. I got a lot of agreement on that count from the chronic illness community!

I was about another hour into working on it on Friday afternoon, when my phone rang and caller ID said it was "US Govt GSA" calling. Huh?

Turns out it was someone from the local Social Security Administration office, who noted that I had filed my application but not the really long history that accompanies it. I told her I was working on it at the moment, and she suggested that I close the online file I was filling out and that she would go through it with me.

Kay spent over an hour on the phone with me, asking me questions to fill out my history, including some I hadn't even seen on the form, such as confirming that I had a minor child living with me and asking for her birth date. Turns out, if I qualify for SSDI, Ellie will also get some payment as well. (I knew that was true of children whose parent(s) died, but I didn't know it was true for children who had a parent on SSDI.)

She also modified my date of disability after learning that I had a permanent partial disability from a 1995 workers comp claim, pushing it back almost three years. She said she would have pushed it back to 1999, when I cut back to part-time due to my shoulder pain, but apparently I earned too much even working just two days a week. So she put me down for November 2004, when I left the AP.

Somehow, I had been expecting that dealing with SSA workers would be akin to dealing with the stereotypes of people who work at the IRS or the DMV. I mean, it's a huge joke to say, "I'm here from the government. I'm here to help you," isn't it?

But Kay was friendly and sympathetic and helpful. She made a difficult and challenging part of the process much easier on me, and I'm grateful for that.

I'm not naive -- it makes total sense to have "nice" people work on the customer service part of the agency, while others will get to be "mean" and reject my application. (I can't remember the statistics I've seen for Oregon, but the vast majority of applicants are turned down on their first SSDI application, but then win on appeal.) I fully expect to have to hire a lawyer to help me with my appeal, particularly since my claim is complicated by the lack of diagnosis, but that's fine.

It's nice to have this item crossed off my list of Things To Do finally, and there's a part of me that's hoping that now that I've applied for disability, that maybe my body will decide it's ready to start working properly and I'll get better. I'd be good with that. :-)

And it's also nice to know that the local SSA folks in Portland are friendly and helpful.

1 comment:

Jeanne said...


That is really great (and extremely rare) that you had someone so helpful assist you with the disability filing. Good luck!