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Multiple Sclerosis: SSDI and Long-Term Disability Options

If you have multiple sclerosis (MS) and, in spite of all necessary accommodations and short-term leave options, you’re still unable to perform your essential job functions, it’s time to look at the alternatives. Perhaps other positions in your company would be more suitable. Or maybe you could be retrained for work in some other field. If neither of these options seems feasible, you need to find out what disability options you have.

MS and Long-term disability insurance

Before making any final decisions, be sure to check out your company’s long-term disability plan — particularly the definition of disabled that’s being used by the plan (the definition tends to be very specific and very strict) and the benefit it provides. The benefit is usually a percentage of your last salary earned, so going to part-time employment before going out on this type of disability plan is generally not a good idea.

Make sure that you understand how your company’s policy works so that you can compare it with the benefits provided by Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Most private long-term disability carriers require you to apply for SSDI as well because they can subtract from their benefit whatever you receive from SSDI.

MS and Social Security Disability Insurance

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which is a program run by the Social Security Administration (SSA), is based on your prior work history. Get easy-to-understand information about SSDI, visit the SSA website or from the National MS Society.

Here are the requirements you must fulfill in order to be eligible for SSDI:

  • You must have worked for a sufficient number of years (some of them recently) and paid Social Security taxes.

  • A physician must determine that you’re too disabled to work at any job.

  • You can’t be working at the present time — or if you are, you must be earning less than the level of “substantial gainful employment,” which is $1000 per month or $1,640 per month for those who are blind. These amounts are periodically adjusted to reflect changes in the cost of living.

For a person with MS, the SSA recognizes four impairments: gait (walking), vision, cognitive problems, and fatigue. In order to qualify for SSDI, your neurologist must be able to document a significant deficit in at least one of these four areas.

Most SSDI applications are initially denied, in part because physicians, including neurologists, have no training in how to fill them out, and the application is a generic one that doesn’t lend itself well to the impairments caused by MS. Be sure to check out the National MS Society website for a toolkit that helps you and your neurologist file effective SSDI applications.

If your initial application is denied, you can appeal the SSA’s decision. The National MS Society (800-FIGHT-MS) can refer you to an attorney who can guide you at any point during the application or appeal process.

If you qualify for SSDI and later decide that you want to try returning to work, the SSA offers various kinds of work incentives to help you gradually transition back into the workforce. You can read more about the SSA’s work incentives on their website.

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