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.