Often I am asked the following question: How I am supposed to survive while I am waiting for disability benefits? This is a tough question to answer. Too often, I speak to people who were already struggling to survive and just barely making it from paycheck to paycheck when their medical problems knocked them out of the workforce. Even people who have resources saved up for a rainy day quickly spend through what they have while waiting the average year and half to see a judge. If you have some money saved up, you will probably need to downsize as much as you can to make that money last. If you do not have resources, you should probably start considering applying for public housing, applying for food stamps and checking at your local Department of Social Services to see if any other help might be available to you. Many people I speak to move in with family and get by on food stamps while they are waiting for their disability benefits to be approved.
If you are able to work at all you should. First of all, judges love it when people are doing everything they can do to help themselves. If it turns out you can work, then fantastic, you don’t need disability benefits. If you try to work and you are not able, that is great evidence you are disabled. Keep in mind the following rules. For any month that you are performing “substantial gainful activity” (“SGA”), you will not be eligible for benefits for that month, and you will not be eligible to apply for disability benefits until you are no longer performing SGA. In 2013, earning SGA is defined as earning $1040 per month or more. That is a nutshell definition; there’s a little more to it. However, you should not try to earn $1039 per month, or just below SGA, because it will look like you are trying to earn less than SGA but you could really earn more. Again, if you really can earn that much then maybe you can work. Realistically, if you can only earn about $800 or below then you can still be considered disabled. If you earn over SGA three months in a row at unskilled work then that will cut off a period of disability.
Also, keep in mind that any work you do should be consistent with your alleged limitations. For instance, if you are alleging that you have severe degenerative arthritis in your cervical spine and cannot lift any amount of weight, then you probably should not be hanging drywall even if you are earning under SGA. If you are alleging that you cannot be around the public because of your severe anger problems, then you probably should not be working in customer service. If you are alleging that you suffer from frequent interruptions to your concentration from pain and depression, then you probably should not be doing any amount of medical work such as nursing. You get the idea.
On a related topic, I am often asked: When should I quit working? I cannot answer that question for you, but I can give you some guidelines. You should work for as long as you safely can do so. Do not continue working if doing so is causing danger to yourself or others. If you are able to work until you are fired for missing work or for making too many mistakes, then again, that is excellent evidence that you are disabled. However, before you push it that far, be sure to see if you might be eligible for short term or long term disability benefits through your employer. If you are eligible for disability benefits through your employer, then be sure to apply for those before you quit or are fired.