Applying for Disability: Interview With Patient Leader Rick Phillips

Our AS.net community has shared varying experiences regarding disability applications. Some people were approved right away, others appealed and eventually were approved, and some have been waiting for years to get their much needed approvals with no luck.

Last week, we interviewed Diana C. about her disability application experience. In the interview below, I spoke with Patient Leader Rick Phillips, who shares how the process affected his mental health, and how an assigned lawyer helped things go smoothly.

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Have you applied for disability?

AS.net: When did you know it was time to apply for disability?

Rick: It was actually decided for me. I was facing a terrible choice of losing my job, or pursing disability. It broke my heart and I was incredibly angry. I could have sought other employment but doing so would have meant sacrificing the long term disability insurance I had with my previous employer.

I cried and struggled for months so I went to see my rheumatologist and asked his opinion. He said frankly, it was past time, in his opinion. So I decided to go forward. The outcome was far from certain but I knew in my heart it was time.

As a side note, I was so angry I sought therapy to help me learn how to accept that I was now asking to be disabled. I had intense therapy for 3 years after. I recall waking up years later feeling so bitterly angry with myself and others for how my job ended. I am mostly over that now as I approach 65 and it has been 13 years.

How long did the process take and/or how long did it take you to apply?

Between the point of deciding and actually being approved was about 18 months.

How did you go about finding a good lawyer?

I didn’t. Once the disability company approved my application, they required I apply for federal social security disability. In exchange they assigned their attorney to argue the case.

It was incredibly smooth after the long term disability company approved my application.

How did getting a lawyer make the process easier?

They knew all the buttons to push and they told me in advance what the expected outcome of each step would be. So when I started getting denial letters I was expecting them and they just automatically filed the appeals in my behalf. I was so happy I was not facing it by myself.

How many times did you appeal?

In my case it took 4 appeals and 3 hearings.

How has being on disability made your life easier? Or, has it made your life harder/more complicated in any ways?

It’s both, in essence. My income froze at exactly my peak earning time. So our income was frozen 13 years ago. We saw that coming and we knew we had to trim our expenses. Our first thing was to sell our second car. Then we sped up the payments on our house so we would be close to having it paid off around this time. I also had to stop putting aside our retirement nest egg. Not much was more difficult than that for me.

On the other hand, I am alive today because I stopped working. My health is better today and we have already adjusted to living on a fixed income as I approach 65.

One other thing it did was give me time to purse my doctorate. It was a long time dream of mine to earn a doctorate. This plus some scholarships afforded me that opportunity. It also helped blunt the anger I felt about not being productive. It gave me purpose and I am so grateful for that.

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