In response to retirement and disability mistake email:
Do not berate yourself for not figuring out the fine points of retirement/disability rules. You’ve never done this before and you’re not expected to be an expert and unfortunately, the expert provided for you was an idiot. I still think you should consider seeing a lawyer. Maybe call your employers credit union and see if they can recommend a pro-labor attorney. Or call the ACLU and see if they can recommend anyone. More than likely, though, you’re stuck. You could try writing a letter to the company explaining the circumstances of the advice you were given and ask for a mulligan, but I wouldn’t bet on that working. They’re off the hook, dancing on their way to the bank. Also, stress and depression make dealing with paperwork, especially paperwork related to the stressful situation, almost impossible to deal with. Been there, done that.
Re private disability insurance and Social Security Disability interaction: The first five full months of disability are not paid for by Social Security. Most private disability plans put you on temporary disability the first six months, and then switch you to permanent disability. Then they make you apply for Social Security disability because they can subtract the amount you get from Social Security from the amount you get from the private insurance. If you’re ultimately turned down for Social Security disability, the private disability continues to pay the full amount. (Theoretically) But it depends on the rules for the private disability plan.
The qualifying rules for private disability plans are usually less stringent than those for Social Security disability. Most private disability plans only require you to be occupationally disabled. However, even Social Security disability rules are a bit looser once you’re 62. Instead of determining whether you can do ANY job in the national economy that would pay you $860 per MONTH (was $830 in 2005), they consider only whether you can do work that you have education, training and experience to do which would pay you $860 per month. They would not, for example, expect you to learn the hod-carrying trade at this juncture.
The date of onset for Social Security disability is important because your benefit amount, retroactive benefits (if any), and Medicare entitlement are all affected by that. If you worked without an interruption of 30 continuous days or more the last six months that you worked, and did the same job for those last six months, and your work was worth at least $830 per month, then you don’t need to be concerned about the date of onset. They’re just going to use the date you stopped work as the date your disability began. If that’s the case, skip the next three paragraphs. However, you still want to tell them about all your medical history from “when your condition first bothered you”.
Periods of work lasting three months or less, interrupted by absences of 30 continuous days or more due to illness or with a change in jobs, can be written off automatically as unsuccessful work attempts. Let’s say that you were off for a month, then worked for three months, then were off for two months, then went back another three months, etc, your date of onset would be the first time you stopped working if you never worked more than three continuous months. You would need proof of the dates you were actually off from work for medical reasons…a letter from the company giving the dates you were on sick leave for thirty continuous days or more would do it. (If Social Security requests the information, the form will be returned with your monthly pay, including your sick pay which shouldn’t count. It helps to get the specific information yourself.) The only thing that counts is whether you WORKED, not whether you got paid.
If you worked intermittently for periods lasting between three and six months, it’s a gray area. Your EARNED pay (not sick leave) would have to have been less than $830 per month or your supervisor would have to say that your work wasn’t worth that even if you were paid more. I would expect that no matter how sick you were or how few hours you worked, your work was worth $830 per month, so that’s probably not going anywhere. Your email suggests there was only one period, over a year ago, when you were off more than one month, so the onset date would probably be the date you stopped work.
There are other considerations that I don’t think apply to you. If you weren’t off for thirty days but you changed jobs—even within the company—and then worked less than three months and then changed jobs again, it might still be considered an unsuccessful work attempt. That also is a gray area because the change in the nature of the job would have to be significant. Also, unreimbursed “impairment related work expenses” (like a wheelchair or a driver or special medical equipment) that were prescribed by your doctor and were necessary FOR YOU TO WORK could be subtracted from what you actually earned to bring you below the $830 cutoff. (That cutoff went to $860 in 2006.) If your employer hired somebody to assist you in doing your work because of your disability-related limitations, the salary of the employee hired could be subtracted from your pay to bring you below the $830 cutoff. Like I said, I don’t think these apply to you.
Here’s a link to a very general Social Security pamphlet about disability:
If you apply for Social Security disability, once you prepare all your info, I recommend that you complete the “Adult Disability and Work History Report” online at
THE ABOVE IS NOT AN APPLICATION. I am NOT recommending that you APPLY online. I would recommend that you make an appointment to go in person to make the actual application.
The Disability Report is the worksheet from which the evidence on your case will be developed. If you list a doctor, condition, symptom there, they can’t ignore it, they have to address it in making their determination. You need to give them complete doctor’s names, addresses, phone numbers, same for hospitals, dates of treatment (at least when you started and stopped), medicines you’re taking, tests you’ve had done.
The Disability Report is the one chance you have to give a full and detailed description of your medical conditions yourself. If you do it on paper or if you let the Social Security office do it for you, you lose control of the process. You may not even see what was on the report. And the person who interviews you may be under pressure to cut you short and not do as complete a job as you might do yourself. And any paper version you complete may be shredded. The only thing that stays on record is the online disability report, completed by either you or an SSA employee.