POZ Focus : Disability Decisions - by James Wortman

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Disability Decisions

by James Wortman

Whether you’re pondering disability benefits or thinking about returning to work, you should consider these factors.

[Applying for Aid]
Because of advances in HIV care, today’s public and private disability programs are generally less concerned with CD4 counts when they determine eligibility—especially for people expected to benefit from HIV treatment. Today’s programs are more likely to cover people dealing with severe medication side effects or other health problems, such as cancer or chronic hepatitis, that are more difficult to manage. These tips will help you gracefully walk the disability tight rope.

Know what’s available to you. If you’re 31 or older and have worked five years in a 10-year period at jobs covered by Social Security, you may apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). If you do not have a qualifying work history, you might be entitled to another form of public benefits called Supplemental Security Income (SSI). And if you’re employed, ask your boss or personnel officer about short- and long-term disability insurance plans, which generally pay out a percentage of your annual income.

Contact your local ASO or a specialized attorney. Different programs have different requirements, including medical conditions that qualify for disability insurance, and all require highly detailed applications. Work with a professional to ensure your paperwork is in order, especially if your request is rejected and you need to appeal. “People who are applying are also denying,” explains Alexandra Remmel, assistant director at Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York City. “They know they have to take certain medicines, they know they have to accommodate their situation in certain ways, but they don’t put it down on paper.” In short: Be honest!

Document everything. Disability insurance claims must be renewed. If you’re receiving benefits, keep detailed financial and medical records for when the renewal notice arrives.
[Returning to Work]
Finding work after being on disability—especially for a prolonged period of time—can seem like an impossible task, especially in today’s economy. “It’s a little bit of a scary, unstable job market right now, but remember that you offered something to the workforce when you left—that doesn’t mean that you can’t offer something now,” says Heather Markey, case management supervisor with Heartland Health Outreach’s Uptown Clinic in Chicago. There are, however, a few important issues to keep in mind.

Prepare for the field. “Once you’ve figured out what you’d like to do,” Markey says, “the next step is to find as many resources and tools as you can to help develop marketable skills.” By way of example, Markey explains, “There’s very rarely a job when you’re not working with some type of computer.” Fortunately, computer-training classes are fairly easy to find no matter where you live—and they’re often free.

Put yourself on paper. “It’s amazing how many people come to me with no résumés, particularly if there’s a huge gap from the last time they worked,” Markey says. You can spruce up your résumé, even while unemployed or on disability, by listing classes, internships or volunteer work—even if you go just an hour a week, it shows determination.  

Know before you go. Once you return to work, you’ll likely be selecting new benefits, including health, life and disability insurance. An expert, perhaps through your local ASO, can help you determine the best options and help you navigate any problems—such as pre-existing health condition clauses—you might face.

Search: disability, Social Security, GMHC, Heartland Health Outreach

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