At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, as the world greeted 2013, I closed the book on a huge chapter in my life. As of January 1, I officially joined the ranks of the disabled. The transition was more symbolic than anything, since I have actually been on medical leave since June. Even so, I found myself swallowing hard at the finality of it.
The decision to leave the work force was not easy for me. I’ve always worked. Though I was a stay-at-home mom when my kids were young, I still clocked 30 – 40 hours a week (sometimes more) as a freelancer. The thought of not working was anathema to me. In fact, until just a few weeks ago, I was convinced I would return to my job once I’d fully recovered from my bouts of pneumonia last spring. But each time I drew close to reaching the “magic number” (10 mg prednisone), I had a flare. After a few long discussions with my doctor and a sobering look at how my disease has affected my daily life, I realized that returning to work was impossible. The constant threat of infection is a danger I can’t afford. And, how can I expect my co-workers to keep picking up the pieces for me when a sudden flare lays me out for weeks at a time?
When I entered the hospital in early December with my third case of pneumonia in just nine months, I knew I’d made the only decision I could. Thankfully, I had purchased Long Term Disability insurance through my employer. If you have the opportunity to buy LTD, do it NOW. Someone gave me this advice at the beginning of my career and I am so thankful I listened. This is our family income for now. Every penny spent over the years was worth it.
I also immediately applied for SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance). My main purpose for wanting SSDI is the Medicare option. After two years of SSDI benefits, you are automatically eligible for Medicare. Unfortunately, you have to be on Medicare an additional two years before it will pay for a transplant. That’s four years total before Medicare will cover a lung transplant. So, it was important to me to apply and get accepted as quickly as possible.
While researching the application process, though, I read that some 70% of SSDI applications are turned down the first time. Thankfully, there is something called the Compassionate Allowances List. The CAL is a list of 165 medical conditions that are considered so severe, they are sure to qualify for disability benefits. Applicants who have CAL conditions are fast-tracked and benefits are decided upon within a matter of days rather than months (or even years). IPF is on the list, and I received my approval three weeks after I’d submitted my application online. Finally… IPF is good for something!
Now that my benefits are in place (and the Medicare clock has started its slow count-down), I am faced with what to do with myself. I’ve been gobbling up books by the dozen. My husband and I have started hunting down healthier recipes to help my ongoing weight-loss effort. And I am even eyeing my knitting basket with its snarl of remnant yarn, trying to come up with something fun and creative. But in the end, this is all just idleness. What can I do that will make a difference for someone? What can I explore that will teach me something new? I’m still figuring that out and I’m wide open to suggestions.
In the meantime, here are a few helpful links if you are looking into applying for SSDI:
Social Security Disability Page The application is two parts: the benefit application itself and the Adult Disability Report. The report is where you will list your doctors, medications, tests, hospital stays, etc. Download the checklist first and gather up all of your info before you start. It will make it much easier (and faster) to complete the report online. Remember to use the “Remarks” box at the end of the report to paint a picture of what your life is like because of your condition.
SSDI and COBRA Extension When you are approved for SSDI benefits, you may be able to extend your COBRA coverage an additional 11 months (for a total of 29 months). This article explains it all.
Why You Want SSDI This is another “lawyer” site, but it does give a great summary of the benefits of receiving SSDI.