My People

My People
My matched set of grandchildren - Oliver and Cosette

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

My Disability Hearing and Decision

Spoiler alert: I won my disability case! Most of you have either seen it on Facebook or gotten a text from me by now but for those who don't know... I won! For those of you who want to skip the novel below, that's the gist of it all.

I wanted to jot down as many details as I could remember today because so many of you have been along for this crazy ride with me and because I think it might be helpful to people who are in the process of getting Social Security Disability. Ironically, this is one of the really bad pain days thanks to the post ablation syndrome (PAS) formerly known as evil gut pain. It may have a name but it's still evil. I just tell you that as a disclaimer in case this blog post doesn't make sense or isn't up to my usual (very low) standards of punctuation, spelling and grammar.

Just to recap the process I've been through... I filed for disability using a large national group that specializes in disability. They are one of those advertised groups that doesn't charge unless you win your case. They got me through the initial application and the first two (was it three? #painbrain) denials and then dropped my case. They said I didn't have enough documentation to be able to win. (How do you like me now, first disability lawyer?) That was the lowest of the lows on this journey.

They broke up with me in November of 2013. By this time I was already having the pain from the PAS and was really struggling. I knew I needed to find a new lawyer but I was really (overuse of the word "really" #painbrain) (overuse of parenthesis also but that's typical) I was really anxious about talking to any other lawyers because I just couldn't bear to get another rejection by either Social Security or an attorney. It took me until February of 2014 to schedule an appointment and go meet with my current attorney. I don't want to put his name here because ... I don't know... I'm not comfortable doing that but if you really want to know, just email me. Basically I used a local guy that was recommended by my pain doctor. I knew the pain doctor had a lot of patients who go through the disability process and I figured if they liked him and recommended him they would be more likely to work with him. Winning strategy, by the way.

So I went and met with my guy in February of 2014. At that point all that was left to do was prepare for the hearing. I say, "all that was left" but truly, he went way, way beyond what the original representation had done for me. We met and talked about my case and talked about the dark, scary things in my past (i.e. Jacksonville) and although he said it wouldn't be EASY because of my age and because my profession was sedentary, he agreed to take my case. The scary part for me was that he was the kind of attorney who you had to pay whether you win or lose. I've had that potential debt hanging over my head with no income since February of 2014. That'll keep you up nights.

From February, 2014 until sometime this Spring (April, maybe? I know it's here in old posts) I didn't hear anything else from my guy or Social Security. I knew there was a long wait for a hearing. I knew there was nothing I could do to speed things along. I settled in for a long wait. Then we got notice of the hearing and it was the day before my brother's fabulous wedding in Connecticut and I already had THEATRE TICKETS! for New Yorks three days before the wedding. I mean, let's be real, Bryan and Helen's wedding was truly a once in a lifetime experience for me and I am so grateful to have been a part of it. I can only describe it as "magical" because it was, in so many ways. But too, plus, also, I was going to see WICKED with my two favorite redheads and we had great seats! It was a huge risk to request to move the date but... long story short, we did and it was and I got to not ONLY attend the once in a lifetime wedding but also the once in a lifetime show.

Along the way since Spring my guy and his very sweet assistant (her name is Natalie and always made me picture my friend Mary's gorgeous daughter Natalie although I still haven't met her face to face) worked very hard to make sure we had crossed all the t's and dotted all the i's. Honestly, I don't think if we had gone to the hearing in June we would have been successful. A few key things happened between then and now, including (but not limited to) getting an affidavit from my last ever supervisor explaining how much difficulty I had working, finally getting a diagnosis for the PAS and being able to tie all of that in with all of the other things that make life difficult for me, getting two really awesomely helpful forms filled out by my pain doctor and my primary care doctor. I complained about the 11th hour doctor visits to get those forms filled out but they made a huge difference.

Ultimately what made a big difference from me was having consistency between the doctors' observations and the observations of my two prior employers. I can't even begin to tell you - no, literally I can't tell you because I am not able to discuss the details of my "unintentional sabbatical" from the next to the last employer - but the way certain things were done made my case. M-A-D-E it. I'm not up to digging up old blog entries at the moment but there was a moment, driving in the rain from the unemployment office, feeling so broken and disheartened and hurt, really hurt by the things that had happened. A voice inside of me said, "what man means for my harm, you use for my good." There was absolutely no way then to know what I know now but I know now that what happened was for my good.

I have been completely out of money for a long time. I spent every dime to my name, literally. I don't know what people do in those circumstances, I really don't. My parents have stood in the gap and made a way for me throughout all of this. I mean, lodging, for one thing, cat food and cat litter and people food, for another. They've paid for all of my pain doctor appointments and all of my prescriptions and that hasn't come cheap. Yesterday my attorney told me that having continued to see the doctor consistently even when it was self-pay demonstrated how very real my pain was. Most people are not able to do that and I couldn't have done that on my own. Seriously, this process is way too long. I know why people give up and go back to work and suffer because it is a long process. Buy private disability insurance, people. For real.

Yesterday I went to meet with my attorney and he laid out the case for me and explained what he had sent in his brief (I think that's the right word?) about my case to the judge. There was the stuff I've already talked about and other things... such as a stable work history. Again, I didn't have a choice about working, I had to provide for my kids and sometimes it was only me providing for them (and my parents, again, who helped out UH-lot). There were times when working was very, very hard for me. My attorney found medical records going back to Jacksonville where I was already having back pain. I totally forgot about those things because I've really blanked out all of the things from back then out of my mind. When I left Jacksonville I was seriously in no condition to work but I had to go to work so that I could have a place to live so that Austin could go to school. And I had to keep working, even when it was miserable because I needed to keep Austin in school. Doing the very hard things that I had to do along the way made a difference for me today.

Gosh this is long. I'd do a two-parter but I hate having to wait for details, don't you? Take a break if you need to. I'll wait.

Anyways... so yesterday was a review of the case and practicing answering questions and watching a video of the process with my attorney. We went in early today for more of the same. My attorney told me this morning that there was practically no way I would have a decision today, in fact, he thought it would be 2-3 months before a decision! Ugh. He was going to request to leave the case open so we could get additional info on the PAS stuff because it's a very important link in the chain of stuff wrong with me. He said that if the judge asked us to amend the disability date from my last day of working full time to towards the end of me working part-time it was a very good sign.

I am no longer an extrovert. Pain has made me less enthusiastic and outgoing. I am much more self-conscious and much less articulate than I used to be. I have never had stage fright or had a hard time talking to strangers... I'm the girl who will chat with a stranger in the stall next to me in a public bathroom... but it's harder now for me to make things make sense. (Obviously, five hours into this blog entry). I didn't allow myself to dwell on the fact that I was going to have to talk to a judge before my meeting with my attorney yesterday. I couldn't allow myself to allow that anxiety to build any bigger than it had to be. Even after practicing with my attorney I was really not looking forward to the hearing today. And then as we sat outside the courtroom my attorney cautioned me not to make any jokes to the judge which, if you know my family, you know is hard. Real hard. We're not always funny but we try really hard to be.

So we were called into the hearing. It wasn't like a tv courtroom... it was more like a conference room with a judge sitting behind a pulpit at the end of a long oblong table. My attorney and myself sat at the table with microphones in front of us. The court reporter sat at a desk off to the side. There was a vocational expert teleconferenced in with us.

The first question the judge asked was if we could amend the disability date from the end of working full time to closer to the end of working part-time. I knew that was a good sign but my nerves didn't let me process that quite then. My attorney asked me a bunch of questions about basic things like name, birthday, family specifics like how many kids I have and where I live. He asked me a few - but not many - questions about how my health problems impact my ability to work. I thought I must be doing a bad job because he didn't ask me many questions.

Then the judge asked me to explain about the PAS - post ablation syndrome - in layman's terms. That was difficult because I was discussing stuff that I would normally hide behind clinical terms to make it less personal. I gave him the best explanation I could and apologized (unnecessarily, of course), for the TMI. I actually used the term, "TMI" with the judge. My attorney told him we had requested documents from the diagnosing doctor but had not yet received them.

THEN the judge talked to the invisible vocational expert (via phone) and gave him hypothetical scenarios for someone in my profession asking whether or not the conditions I have would make it impossible for me to work. The vocational expert said that there was no type of work of the kind I was trained for OR of any other kind that a hypothetical person with my hypothetical health problems could do. I was still processing that statement when the judge gave his decision. He didn't wait... he just said something to the effect of finding that I was disabled by the standards set by Social Security and I was eligible to receive benefits and that I was also eligible for medicare. Then he said, "I'm sorry that you're having to live with this kind of pain and I hope that you'll be able to get some relief in the future". He explained that he'd have to write up his decision which should take between 4-6 weeks and they would pay me for disability starting back to the end of March 2013. And we were dismissed.

I heard what the judge said but I didn't fully comprehend it... like I knew what it meant but I couldn't quite wrap my mind around it. I honestly thought I'd never get approved because ... I mean, rejection has happened a lot in my life. And even if I did get approved I thought it would be months down the road before I heard. We had a little victory discussion with my attorney and... that was that! My attorney said he didn't ask me many questions because he knew from the opening discussion that the judge had already decided in my favor just based on the evidence submitted. I say "just" but it was a lot of stuff.

My phone was in the car because we weren't allowed to bring them into the courthouse (never felt so lost in my life!) so as soon as I got in the car I started texting people. I was shaking... partly because of the emotion of it all and partly because I'm for-realz in a lot of pain today and I didn't take anything because, you know, having to talk to a judge and all. I texted back and forth with folks most of the way back to the house and then settled myself down in my nest to rest and recap.

I feel like I should give some sort of profound observation here but I'm still so stunned. It's a game changer for me. In a good way. Thanks for all of your support and encouragement throughout all of this long process! So much love for all of you!

And, right on schedule, Cosette laughed out loud today for what I think was the first time! Happy days are here again! Maybe they never really left...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

That is fantastic news! Congrats!
I'm not sure if you realize how much money you will rec!
its a lot.... and then a lot again and again.
Your checks will be random to start and then even out to the same amount each week.
But your back pay will be outstanding and worth the wait.
Congrats again! ")

Red*Hot@52! said...

Oh I am so happy for you! Thrilled for you, actually! I hate that it took this long to get you taken care of, but am so glad you finally won your case.

monique said...

I know you feel like a brand new girl.
You worked hard for this. I'm so happy.

Wendy in Oz said...

Smiling so hard right now. This is such an awesome post. Best decision ever! So happy for