Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Who qualifies as "disabled"?

There's been some criticism over the years that if I'm working, I'm clearly committing fraud by applying for disability.

Here's the official word from a lawyer:

To be eligible for Social Security disability you have to be unable to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to
result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a
continuous period of not less than twelve months.

The key words for you are "substantial gainful activity."  Work that
earns less than $860 a month is not generally considered to be
substantial gainful activity.  Of course, if you were actually able to
work more hours you would not be disabled, but if you are working at
less than the substantial gainful activity level because your disability
prevents you from working more, you can still be found to be disabled.

"Continuous period of not less than twelve months"     Check -- I've been off work since February 2000

"medically determinable impairment"    Check -- several doctors have found objective orthopedic problems that would keep me from working, quite aside from the CFS; there are abnormal blood tests as well; CFS is (under SS99p) considered a "medically determinable impairment"

"work that earns less than $860 per month"    Check -- there have been a few months that I have reached that, but the effort always caused a relapse, proving that I could not "maintain employment" as required by the law.  The question is not whether you can get a job, the question is whether you can actually work at it successfully.  My attempt to go back to a law office part-time resulted in a total collapse after just three days, thus proving to the satisfaction of the doctors that I cannot "maintain employment".

There are no rules that say you cannot work part-time, earning less than $860 a month, while applying for or collecting SSDI.  They have, however, established that to be the level at which you are "self-sufficient" and no longer need government help.  Working 6 hours a week leaves me well short of the $860.  Working 10 hours a week (the maximum before I relapse) puts me a little above it, but after subtracting business expenses, I'm still below it.

In fact, SSDI encourages people to try going back to work to see how it goes, hoping that they'll find they can.  Unfortunately, every time I've pushed it to12-15 hours a week (the barest minimum for a "real job"), I've wound up back in bed, proving through experimentation that I really can't go back to work successfully, as defined by the law.

There are other requirements such as having contributed a minimum amount of "insurance premiums" toward your benefits.  Since I worked full-time for 20 years, not a problem for me; I'm well over the minimum.  Someone who worked part-time or took time out to raise a family might not have enough credits to qualify.

The courts are mindful that you might be able to do small amounts of work interspersed with rest periods at home that would not carry over to performing satisfactorily in the work place.  They recognize that employers do not give you unlimited sick days, and have ruled that needing to take off even one day a week to rest is enough to make you disabled.  They have stated flat-out that "work when able", as required by a CFS patient, is not a "reasonable accommodation" under ADA. 

So, I have no problem, under the law, reconciling my apparent ability to work with my claim to be disabled.  Under the law, I am disabled, even though I do work as much as I can.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Sloth or Industriousness? You decide.

Slothful?  Hardly.  While the rest of the country thought it was their God-given right to have a four-day holiday weekend, I worked every day of the "long weekend".  I had a series of transcripts that had to be delivered by Monday morning, so I couldn't take the weekend off like most.  I did take a couple hours out to do fun stuff (like watch a favorite movie), but that didn't reduce the number of hours that I had to work over the weekend ... just took some of the work out of normal business hours and pushed it till 10 or 11 at night.

Anyway, I find it rather amusing that someone who was out of the workforce for more than a decade would dare to call someone with a 20-year career (after a series of student jobs, including having started two businesses while still in my teens) who even now runs several businesses "slothful". 

I was never a "kept woman" -- I always worked, usually as the sole breadwinner of the family.  I know Lynn can't say that, because she was unemployed for 12 years, with someone else paying all her bills for her.  No man, other than my father, has ever paid any of my bills.

Even now, I work as many hours as the doctors allow.

The day Lynn turns up documentation that she has worked for pay as many hours in her life as I have, I might admit to being lazier than she is.  But since I often had 2 or 3 jobs at a time before I got CFS, and worked a fair number of 100-hour weeks as a paralegal doing trial prep, I rather doubt that she will ever in her lifetime work as many hours for pay as I have.  Because while she took 12 years off, I have yet to take off more than a couple months at a time, usually when I was too sick to work -- not because I was too lazy or had someone else to support me.

Even now, I am working.  Maybe not full-time, but working, and earning a good hourly paycheck.  Probably more than Lynn ever earned per hour -- or ever will.