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The Process of Application
Applying for Social Security Disability can be a daunting and sometimes an extended process. Our Social Security Disability booklet Mass CFIDS/ME & FM Disability Handbook: How to Obtain Social Security Benefits if You Have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/CFIDS) will arm you with the knowledge and persistence to navigate the process. There are normally 3 stages before a claim is approved, although sometimes a person can be approved at stage one or two. The better and more complete your medical documentation, the higher the chances are for a quicker approval. But you should not give up if you are disapproved at stage 1 or 2. Ninety percent of people who are approved are approved at stage 3. Most people with CFS/CFIDS/ME or FM who are truly disabled are accepted, although there is variation depending on the region of the country you live in.
The Waiting Period
The typical waiting period for Social Security approval of an individual's claim may take many months. If a person has little or no savings or assets, he or she may not have sufficient funds to meet their living expenses. Some people may have family or friends from whom to seek help.
There are some assistance programs that may help to bridge the waiting period "gap". (There is a six month waiting period from the date of disability before one's funds begin to accumulate. Once an application is approved, there is usually a check for retroactive accumulated funds. However, Social Security has a limit on retroactive funds paid to an older disability date. But there is no waiting period before you apply—you should apply as soon as you are no longer able to work.)
Working while applying for Social Security Disability
Many people who have no other income or resources ask, "How can I meet my expenses while I wait for Social Security? Can't I work just a few hours a week?" In general, any work during the application period is viewed suspiciously by Social Security as possible "substantial gainful activity". (This phrase means you are not disabled.) The best advice is not to work at all while applying for Social Security. Any more than 3 hours a week can put your application in some jeopardy. Even the 3 hours may be questioned. After you've been accepted, the rules change, and you are allowed to work a certain amount without immediately jeopardizing your benefits. (The rules for this system are complex, and if you are granted benefits you must learn them thoroughly before doing any work, so that you will know what can happen to your benefits under various conditions of work/earnings).
If you have to work a few hours a week to make ends meet, you should consult an advocate or attorney who knows about Social Security disability for an opinion about how your work will affect your application.