By E. Kirsten Peters
The terms “disability” and “on disability” have several meanings. At its most fundamental level, disability refers to being unable to do certain things. A person with arthritis in both knees, like me, is unable to run, and in that sense is disabled.
Last year I took disability retirement from my job. That was possible because I had turned 55 and because my mental disabilities related to schizoaffective disorder meant I could no longer do my job for the state of Washington. When I left work, and with the help of a staffer at the Disability Action Center, I applied for disability benefits through the private insurance company that worked with my employer to provide such coverage. I was granted those benefits and thus in common speech was “on disability.” In my case, the benefits of the private insurance company are good but they only run for a year and three quarters (21 months).
But when you hear the phrase “she is on disability” you likely think of Social Security disability benefits. I knew I needed to apply for them, and that application was more challenging than that of the private insurance company. I got a book from interlibrary loan and read a bit about how to apply for Social Security benefits. It all seemed overwhelming to me. The book itself was long and detailed and I just wasn’t making good headway with it. So I enlisted the help of a smart friend. She read the relevant sections of the book and agreed to help me apply for Social Security disability benefits. It took several sessions on the computer – we did the application on-line – and I spent time gathering the information about doctors I had seen, medications I was on, tests I had gone through, and the like, all of which my friend typed into the on-line system.
Only about one third of people who apply for Social Security benefits are granted them right away. The other two thirds have the right to go through an appeals process, but I was told the appeals system in Spokane entails about a two year wait. I braced myself for that, wondering if I had enough in savings to get by for an extended period.
But I was one of the lucky ones. About two months after I applied I heard from the Social Security Administration that I had been granted benefits. Good as his word, Uncle Sam has been making electronic deposits to my bank account each month. Now I’m “on disability” in the sense that most people use the term. And after I’ve been on Social Security disability for two years I will be eligible for Medicare, which will be a great help.
The terms “disability” and “on disability” have different meanings in different contexts. Sometimes we all have to think before we speak when using the terms.