"I’m missing a lot of work because of my Sjögren’s. How do I begin to consider going on disability as an option?"
Thomas Sutton, Disability Attorney
If your illness has progressed to the point that you can no longer work, you may be eligible for disability benefits through Social Security (Disability Insurance Benefits, Supplemental Security Income, or both), which provide monthly cash as well as access to Medicare after 29 months of disability. You will have to prove that your Sjögren’s (in combination with any other physical or mental impairments you may have) prevents you from working at any of your past jobs, or in any other job on a full-time basis (or, if you are 50 or older, that you are unable to perform physically demanding jobs). You may also apply for benefits through a private long-term disability policy that you may have through your employer (or may have purchased individually).
In any event, you should discuss your situation with your physicians so that they are aware of your application and will cooperate when requested; you should also consider obtaining representation by an attorney experienced in disability claims, which can be complex and may require appeals if your application is denied at first (and if that happens, do not become discouraged as many claims initially denied are later awarded through appeals). It is a good idea to keep a daily journal to record your difficulties with activities of daily living in your home, as an indication of the problem you would have functioning in a workplace 40 hours a week.
"Do I need a lawyer to help me through the disability process?"
Michelle Wallace, Attorney and Sjögren's Patient
Not everyone will need an attorney in order to apply for Social Security Disability benefits. Some claims are easy enough that claimants can complete an application and win approval of benefits all on their own. However, having an attorney could make the process easier and less stressful.
An attorney can provide you with valuable guidance on how to gather the appropriate medical documentation needed to prove your disability case and advise how you should submit your application in order to increase your chances of being approved at the initial application stage.
If, for some reason, your initial application is denied, an attorney can help you through the Social Security Disability appeals process. While no attorney can guarantee that you will receive the disability benefits you are applying for, a qualified Social Security attorney can greatly increase your chances of being approved for Social Security Disability benefits. If you do not have an attorney representing you, you may waste years of time, effort and money trying to represent yourself. In the end, you may have to turn to the services of a qualified attorney when you are forced to file a second (or even third or fourth) claim for Social Security Disability benefits.
This article was first printed in the Foundation's patient newsletter for members.