Disability System Takes A Long Time

This is an actual letter and response written to and from the Social Security Administration.

Q: In 1997 at age 29, I was diagnosed with the disabling condition of multiple sclerosis. Since that time, I married, graduated magna cum laude from Rutgers University, began graduate studies, had two children, and worked for a law firm for over 12 years.

Now, my MS has made it impossible for me to work. I have developed seizures, weakness of the limbs, coordination difficulties, and visual difficulties. Also because of the MS, I fatigue easily and suffer memory and cognitive losses.

Since leaving my job in March of 2007, I have been waiting to receive help from Social Security disability.

I have hired an attorney who to help me deal with the nightmare of the Social Security disability system, but how do we survive until then? Our children are age five and seven and we have a mortgage, utilities, and car bills to pay. We have fallen behind on our bills and nearly lost our home to foreclosure a month ago.

My benefits were denied by Social Security in February, despite my employer certifying that I was unable to work and describing the change in my work as the disease progressed. I also had reports from my doctor, who is one of the top five MS doctors in the U.S.

Since I was 16, I have worked and I never thought I would fall ill. I never allowed MS to rule my life. How can the system turn its back on me and drag its feet like this?

A: What makes the process difficult is that disability is strictly defined by the law. Clients must prove that they are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity because of an impairment that is medically determinable and is either fatal or will last for a period of at least 12 months. It must also be so severe that a person is not only prevented from performing previous work, but also any work, considering their age, education, and work experience.

MS is a cyclical disease and will vary in severity and day-to-day effects, so the SSA tries to utilize as many opinions from doctors as possible and a cross-section of factors to make a decision regarding benefits. Since the effects differ so much for each person, there is no one judgment.

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