Employment – Disability Retirement
Having been a teacher for 12 years prior to my disability, I did not qualify for Social Security benefits (other than Medicare). Teachers (at least in Nevada) do not pay Social Security taxes.
Instead, they have a pension plan in place, which pays disability under early retirement. If you have a similar case, you will need to apply for early retirement based on disability through your employer.
If you have been on FMLA, then you are probably already familiar with the people you will be working with. Unlike the SSA, employers will usually grant disability retirement if your doctor has determined you to be disabled and sufficient evidence is included. There may be a review board, but they are not generally out to deny you.
Most companies with pension plans have rules regarding disability retirement. You may have to seek permission to work in the future if your distribution (under disability) is to continue. Once you reach retirement age, the pension reverts to regular retirement upon request (without future working restrictions).
If your disability specifically restricts your job (the position you held), many companies approve future work and allow distributions to continue as long as your new position is in an unrelated field and requires unrelated tasks.
Insurance – Long-Term Disability
Coverage under a long-term disability insurance policy is a smart choice. You will need to apply with the company that issued your policy. Many people purchase this insurance through their employer, but many companies offer stand-alone insurance to individuals.
If you do not have a long-term disability policy, you may want to look into it. Many companies will still insure you even if a diagnosis is present, but there will probably be a waiting period before you qualify for benefits.
Although less challenging than the government (but more challenging than disability retirement), these insurance companies review everything. This is why disability determination is essential.
Upon approval of benefits, the company will waive policy premiums, which is nice for the wallet. However, they do require updates by a licensed physician (mine are yearly) as well as documentation of any additional income (so that they can reduce your benefit amount).
Most companies require your total compensation to be no more than 70% of your former salary (including their distribution). These companies insist you apply through all avenues. If you have already applied through SSA and received a determination letter, the process is that much easier.
I have held a life insurance policy for many years. I continued to pay my premiums faithfully each month despite my loss of earning potential due to disability. About a year into my disability, I perused the document and discovered that I had a “disability waiver of premium”. Awesome!
The policy dictated a waiting period of six months. I had to submit basic documentation and then my waiver was approved. The check for overpayment in the mail was a nice bonus.
Now my policy will remain active regardless of my ability to pay. If you have any type of insurance, I strongly suggest you review your documents in case you have this nice little waiver added!
The journey is not easy, and although I lost 1/3 of my income upon disability, the long-term disability insurance has been my biggest relief. It provides more income than my pension and when combined, I am able to live modestly, but comfortably.
If you have not already taken the necessary steps to prepare for potential permanent and total disability, I strongly recommend that you make it a priority! It just might be all you have to rely on. Furthermore, if lupus has the potential of being a long-term disability for you, review the information regarding SSA now so that it will not be such a thorn in your side when and if they day comes that you need to apply.
As hard as it may be, talk openly and honestly with your doctor regarding any concerns you may have. My doctor was my greatest supporter in the process. She was timely and efficient, which made the experience tolerable.