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March 17, 2012

Social Security: Don't wait on paperwork to file for disability benefits


Daily Star

---- — Disability is something most people do not like to think about. But if you're not able to work because you have a medical condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death, you may be able to get Social Security disability benefits. Here's what you need to know.

You should apply for disability benefits as soon as you become disabled. It can take months to obtain all your medical records and process an application for disability benefits (three to five months, on average).

Generally, the information we need includes:

"¢ Your Social Security number;

"¢ Names, addresses and phone numbers of the doctors, caseworkers, hospitals, and clinics that took care of you, and dates of your visits;

"¢ Names and dosage of all the medicine you take;

"¢ Medical records from your doctors, therapists, hospitals, clinics and caseworkers that you already have in your possession;

"¢ Laboratory and test results; and

"¢ A summary of where you worked and the kind of work you did;

IMPORTANT _ Do not delay filing for disability benefits if you don't have all the above information in your possession. Social Security will assist you in getting the necessary documents, including obtaining your medical records.

The fastest and most convenient way to apply for disability is online at www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability. You can save your application as you go, so you can take a break at any time.

If you prefer, you may call our toll-free number, (800) 772-1213, to make an appointment to apply either at your local Social Security office or by telephone.

If you are approved for disability benefits, that doesn't mean you'll never return to work. Social Security has special rules called "work incentives" that allow you to test your ability to work. Take a look at the following story:

Megan Riggs was just like many other people in their late 20s _ bright, ambitious, and full of life. She earned bachelor's degrees in forensic science and biology, with a minor in chemistry. Riggs started working and building her career. In her spare time, she pursued her passion, competitive ballroom dancing.

In January of 2008, Riggs had a major depressive episode. Her illness caused her to lose her job, and financial struggles resulted. Riggs qualified for Social Security disability benefits. The monthly payments helped keep her afloat financially, but even then she had the desire to work again. Knowing she would need help returning to work, she looked to Social Security's "Ticket to Work" program and other work incentives for support on her path back toward self-sufficiency.

Riggs learned that the Ticket program was free, voluntary and designed specifically for adults who receive disability benefits through Social Security. She decided the program was a good fit for her, as it would help her find a career that could lead to a brighter future.

Once Riggs made her choice to participate in the Ticket to Work program, she decided to work with an Employment Network that provides employment support and guidance. The EN helped Riggs develop a plan to achieve her work goals and offered advice on career building, job placement, training and counseling. "I could try work," said Riggs. "I knew I wasn't going to be on my own."

Using her Ticket, she was able to test her abilities, build her confidence, and continue to receive her benefits while working toward becoming fully self-sufficient.

Through Social Security's work incentives, she maintained her health care coverage, which gave her peace of mind.

Riggs found stable employment.

As a result of her hard work, she now works as a document control specialist, earning more money than she received on disability benefits.

The Ticket to Work program helped Riggs achieve a more fulfilling life by helping her regain the satisfaction of work.

She now enjoys working, reading, spending time with her cocker spaniels, and has even been able to return to competitive ballroom dancing.

"With Ticket to Work, I've received the tools to excel and the help of people to keep me going," she said.

Thousands of Social Security beneficiaries like Megan Riggs have earned more money, begun careers, learned new skills, and met new people through the Ticket to Work program.

To learn more, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/work.

tracey L. weaver is district manager of the Oneonta office of the Social Security Administration. 'Senior Scene' columns can be found at www. thedailystar.com/seniorscene.