Even the best accommodations at work sometimes aren’t enough to help you keep your job when you have multiple sclerosis (MS). Symptoms such as visual impairments, difficulty walking, and fatigue can make work impossible.
When people in the U.S. living with MS can no longer work, many seek Social Security disability benefits. Disability benefits help replace lost income when people with MS leave their jobs.
Applying for disability benefits can be emotionally difficult. “Starting the Social Security process ... Ugh! Sounds daunting!” wrote one MyMSTeam member.
The process of applying for a disability claim can feel intimidating, but understanding the process ahead of time can make applying easier.
There are two different federal disability programs in the United States, Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). To qualify for either program, you must have a disability that interferes with your ability to work.
Social Security Disability Income provides benefits to those who have previously had full-time work. SSDI benefits are funded through payroll taxes. If you are approved, you can receive benefits six months after you become disabled. If you have been disabled for at least a year, you may be able to get back payments of disability benefits for one year. You are eligible for Medicare 24 months after you start receiving SSDI.
Supplemental Security Income provides benefits to those who have not worked the required time period and have a low income. If you are approved, you can receive benefits in the next month. You may also be eligible for back payments of SSI if you became disabled before your SSI approval.
In most states, SSI eligibility qualifies you for Medicaid. In Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and the Northern Mariana Islands, you have to apply for Medicaid separately from SSI, but the criteria for both are the same. Eligibility criteria for SSI recipients varies across states.
Almost every state provides an SSI supplement. Arizona, Mississippi, North Dakota, and West Virginia do not. The eligibility rules for supplements vary by state.
There is an asset cap for receiving Supplemental Security Income. If an individual has more than $2,000 of assets (or a couple has more than $3,000 of assets), they lose eligibility. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a list of which assets are counted toward the maximum.
To determine whether someone is disabled enough to be eligible for benefits, the Social Security Administration will evaluate several factors. The following criteria will be examined when you apply for Social Security disability benefits:
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Applying for disability benefits for MS requires a lot of paperwork. The Social Security Administration offers a checklist of necessary application information. Below is a summary of what you’ll need to provide.
Medical evidence is typically the most important component of a disability application. Make sure your MS treatment team is aware that you are applying for disability so they can document your condition accordingly. Documentation is especially important if you are required to have a disability evaluation. You may need the following documentation for your application:
You can apply for SSDI online if you aren’t currently receiving benefits and if you haven’t been denied in the past 60 days. You can apply for SSI online if you have never been married, if you were born in the United States, and if you are between 18 and 65. If you don’t meet any of those criteria, you can still apply at a local Social Security office or over the phone.
It takes an average of three to five months to process an initial application for disability benefits. Some MyMSTeam members got approved sooner. “I got disability within a couple of months,” wrote one member.
For others, the process can take years. “It took me two years with secondary progressive [MS]. I was denied the first time and got approved on appeal with a lawyer,” another member shared.
Only 21 percent of those who applied for disability benefits between 2009 and 2018 were approved on their first attempt. You can appeal the decision if your application is denied. The first step is reconsideration, when your case will be evaluated by someone who did not take part in the first evaluation. About 2 percent of applications that weren’t approved the first time were approved during reconsideration from 2009 through 2018.
Reconsideration can take time. One MyMSTeam member was still waiting on this process months after an initial rejection. “My claim was denied. Now I’m waiting on the appeal process. I’m trying not to get discouraged,” they shared.
If necessary, you have the option to file a second appeal. The second appeal includes a hearing by an administrative law judge. These are judges trained in disability laws, who will hear all the evidence in your disability case. You may have a disability attorney represent you at this hearing. “My case worker referred me to an attorney that specializes in SS claims,” one MyMSTeam member shared.
Another member credited their private disability lawyer with their successful appeal: “It took me three years with the lawyer. But it was worry-free and easy not to have to do all of the appeals myself. So I recommend a lawyer.”
If you are denied at this level, you can ask the Appeals Council to review your case and make a decision on it. About 8 percent of SSDI claims between 2009 and 2018 were approved during a hearing with an administrative law judge or the Appeals Council. If you are denied at this level, your last remaining option is a federal court hearing.
Filing for disability benefits can be stressful. MyMSTeam members shared a variety of ways to help deal with the process.
If you’d like to research more about disability benefits in countries outside of the United States, check out these resources, listed by country:
By joining MyMSTeam, the social network and online community for those living with multiple sclerosis, you gain a support group of more than 187,000 people who understand life with MS.
Have you applied for Social Security disability benefits for MS? Do you have any advice about the process? Comment below or start a conversation on MyMSTeam.