As you all know, I "retired" from working in October of 2011. I immediately applied for SSDI (Social Security Disability). As expected my first application was denied...60% of all first time applications are. Over the past year my health has been declining at a steadily increasing pace.
These days I am happy if I have TWO GOOD HALF DAYS A WEEK...days where my pain level is as low as a 5 out of 10 (my doctor has told me that there is little hope I will ever see a 0 out of 10 pain level again), when I'm not spending the biggest portion of the day in bed under a doubled electric blanket to combat the severe pain, when my fatigue is not completely debilitating and my neurologic issues are not precluding me from performing fine motion activity with my hands, typing on the computer, holding items with only one hand, turning pages in a book or walking more than a short distance at a time. As they say, "If it's not one thing, it's another."
Given the progression of my symptoms and letters from four of my physicians stating that I am not capable of any type of gainful employment, I expected my upcoming SSDI hearing to go well. If four separate physicians put their names to a statement that I am not capable of working, how could SSDI rule against me? That many doctors are not, realistically, going to be willing to put their good names and licenses at risk by falsifying facts. The fact is...I'm not able to work. Period.
In mid November I received a letter stating that my hearing would be on December 3rd. Since I am unable to go down to the city on my own, and my husband could not take off that day, I had my hearing rescheduled for December 10th. I followed all of the instructions that came with my notification. I filled out several enclosed forms. I was told to send copies of all of my medical records since mid March to their office for the judge to review prior to my hearing. I contacted all of my doctors and managed to get copies of all 25 visit notes. My wonderful doctors jumped through hoops to circumvent the normal administrative process and make the copies available expediently...and my poor parents ran from office to office to obtain records as they became available if I was not up to leaving the house on that day. I needed to get them mailed off quickly. When my large stack of records and completed forms were gathered and collated I rushed to the post office and mailed them overnight (at a cost of $17.10).
On December 10th my husband and I headed to the city for my hearing. We fought traffic on a killer expressway, paid through the nose for parking in the heart of the city, and shoved a rotten fast food meal down our throats just prior to the hearing. As a diabetic, I can't go too long without food and we had no idea how long my hearing would last. Better to be safe than sorry. We arrived at the appointed time (actually early) and waited our turn to appear before the judge. Ten minutes before my appointment time a woman came out and handed me a packet of papers and told me to complete them when I got home and mail them back to the office. I placed them, unopened, in my briefcase.
At exactly my appointment time we were called into the room. After a brief introduction the judge informed me and my husband that my hearing will be in April. Huh? What? TODAY is my hearing! Nope, it's not (despite every paper I received stating that it was). The judge called me down to tell me that I can get a lawyer if I choose, but I need to get the lawyer now. If I wait too long and the lawyer can't get the case together in time, there will be NO postponement. "THIS is your postponement." Oh, and she is retiring at the end of the year and another judge will be hearing my case. End of meeting. We were out of there in 10 minutes. And the paperwork the lady gave me while I was waiting for my "hearing"?...the same paperwork I had received in the mail (TWICE), had already completed, had mailed overnight and they had received five days earlier!
My husband and I walked out of the building dumbfounded and furious. He had taken a day off of work, we had wasted our time and money for 10 minutes in front of the judge while she informed me that I can get a lawyer. Well, duh, it says that over and over during the application process and the appeal process. I KNOW I can get a lawyer, I just didn't think I would need one since several of my doctors say I can't perform any gainful employment. But, if THIS is an example of how the system works...maybe I DO need to fork out money for legal representation!
So later on this afternoon I will be speaking with an attorney to discuss the possibility of him representing me at the hearing. I often wondered why people who were truly disabled got lawyers to represent them. Now I know. The system is broken, and the only way to be assured things are handled in a timely, efficient and effective manner is to hire someone who can duct tape the system back together to make sure the decision is made based on the actual FACTS of the case. For that I guess I will be more than willing to fork out money for legal representation...