|Receiving Disability and SSI for Bipolar Disorder
December 10, 2000
As we all know, having Bipolar Disorder most definitely has its downside. Boy, does it ever. One being the inability to maintain or keep a job. But we are entitled to apply for disability benefits. Now keep this in mind, just because you have been diagnosed as BP and have the right to apply, does in no way guarantee that you will be approved to receive them.
It is generally a good idea to use a disability insurance attorney to go through the long and complicated process. This is what they earn their living at and they know exactly what to do and what not to do. Well, I did it myself.
If you decide to try it yourself and get turned now on the first try, you are allowed to appeal. THIS is when you will really need a lawyer and statistics have shown that the second go around is usually but not always, approved.
I decided to go it alone. Mainly because I could not afford my medications, let alone an attorney. I did my research on the Internet and I mean I really scoured every bit of information I could find. I read through the Federal information at their sites, I visited other BPers who had filed, and I visited a lot of attorney sites who specialized in this area and many had loads of advice on the do's and don'ts of filing a claim.
The one constant I found on every site I visited was that it would take approximately 5 to 6 months before a decision would be made. They weren't lying, sports fans. It was almost 5 months to the day I filed, when I received the approved letter. Let me share with you some of my tips on doing it yourself.
First I need to thank my fiance who's constant nudging forced me to do all of the following.
When you get the packet to fill out, fill it out in detail. Do NOT leave anything out. Do not omit anything in your past that can be attributed to your bipolar disorder. When it comes to the section on describing your disorder and your daily life, tell the truth! Tell them in detail it is hell. The worse off you sound, the better your chances are.
Second, they will ask for all sorts of copies of different papers. Make sure to send ALL that they need, because the lack of one item will put your claim in the "insufficient - my lord we have to hold this for a few months" file. I don't care if you have to call up Aunt Martha for information, find it, get it, and send it in the packet.
Now, you've sent it all in, what do you do next? Well basically you wait. I gave it three months then I started calling. Why? Because first off, I'd receive the occasional letter stating that I had neglected to do such and such, when I knew darn well that I had. Or that I hadn't sent back such and such form that they had sent. Here's a news-flash. They never sent it in the first place.
In their defense I will say this, they receive hundreds of new claims a day and no SS Office is equipped to handle that. Not with government cutbacks. They're all doing triple duty and your claim isn't going to stand out among the others unless you do something to make sure it does. And to do that, you CALL your case analyst. You'll know who that is because his/her name will be on all those letters coming to your house saying your claim may be dismissed because you forgot or didn't do such and such. I assume that each state SS office has different rules, I don't know, but trust me kids, I harassed my claims analyst to death! Everyday I would call and leave a message on his voice mail. We played a lot of voice mail tag, and sometimes I'd be so infuriated that I couldn't talk to a real person. For this, I went over his head. Their own receptionist remarked to me one day that "he had had enough with the reps not answering their phones so he was putting me directly through to the head honcho."
And he did. The manager was more than kind. He answered all my questions and wasn't too thrilled at the run-around I'd been receiving. He constantly told me to call HIM anytime with questions. Well, <smiling>, imagine the surprise of my own case analyst when he learned HIS manager had been brought in to pinch hit. I think it worried him, but hey, I'm ill and I wanted to make darn sure they were analyzing my case and that all my information wasn't sitting in someone's already overcrowd "in basket".
One of my obstacles was the fact my psychiatrist wouldn't send in a medical evaluation unless I paid him an extra $400 to do it. Yep, I checked and he was within his rights to do such. Funny thing is, my therapist also sent in a report and she received money for doing so and didn't charge me a cent. So, I explain this to the head man and he said that no way were they going to force me to chuck out that kind of dough in order to comply with their request. So they, at their own expense, set me up with an appointment with their own contracted psychiatrist who afterwards told me "yep, you're definitely bipolar alright." Well duh doc. Anyway, there is was. Official proof from a professional, government contracted physician giving unequivacle affirmation that I was indeed disabled.
Then they sent their contracted social worker over on a saturday morning to ask me some questions. Entire thing took 30s mins. He had told me on the phone that all I basically had to do was answer the door. They pretty much just want to confirm you live where and how you claim.
And I STILL kept calling and leaving messages. I kept a log of all my calls and the messages I received back and who they were from and a brief synopsis of the content. Sounds like a lot of work I know, but just in case they turned me down, I wanted all of this on some sort of record.
So now I've been approved. I was even approved by the Federal govenment as well as the state. It seems that once the state had made their decision, a computer generated random selection of claims had to be sent to the Federal big boys for their decision. And of course, my claim was one of those chosen. Well that really sent me off into a manic phase. The state "wasn't at liberty" to tell me their decision in the case that the Feds would overturn it. So I'm thinking, okay, they either okay my claim and are afraid to say so and get my hopes up only to have the Feds overturn it. Or, they denied me and were afraid I'd go off the deep end and were hoping the feds would overturn it and approve it.
Then they tell me there is NO person I can contact at the federal level because that is unavailable to citizens. Hmmmm. That didn't set well. Who was I going to harass now???? The state kept telling me to "sit tight" and in a few weeks I would know. Sigh. I called the "honcho" at the state to confirm this and he pretty much said the same thing. No one to harass, just be patient and wait. But in retrospect, I think he and my case analyst both were telling me this with smiles on their faces.
So the day finally arrived and I got the approval letter. Whew. That was one long 5 months. But, that's exactly what all the research said it would take at minimum. How long this will last I don't know, since Bipolar is a disease that does not go away. Will I always be unemployed and getting SSI? I certainly hope not. But I've got to finish my undergrad degree and hopefully go on to graduate school to get my PhD. in Psychology. I hope to someday be able to deal with the stress of the work place and have a hold on my mixed cycling and episodes that have caused me to lose jobs and walk out of jobs.
In closing, I just want to say this: Whether you file a claim yourself or use an attorney, KEEP AT THEM! Don't let them overlook and/or forget about your claim. Harassing them with daily phone calls is a pain, but at least it keeps you claim fresh in your mind. Don't get mad at them. Always preface a tirade by telling them that you are not directing your frustration at them, but that you are indeed frustrated at being in the dark. In other words, get them to sympthize with you and become a fighting member on your team. If nothing else, they'll do what they can just to get rid of you and your incessant calling.
You're bipolar and you are disabled. If you cannot hold a job, file the claim, if you win, use that time off from the world of work to work with your Pdoc in getting you to a fairly normal state of mind with the proper medicine combination. There will come a time hopefully that while you may still receive some assistance from the government, you will be able to return to the workplace and be a part of society once again. I certainly intend to!