Practical Tips When Going on Disability

Over the years, I’ve found certain techniques and recommendations that can be applied in most disability claim situations. Here are just a few of the things that I’ve found to be helpful with my clients:


Plan Ahead – Once you have a diagnosis or other indication that you may have to stop working at some time in the future you should do a “Benefit Review” so you will know what benefits are available, what you have to do to become eligible for them, how much income you will have when you stop working. The earlier in advance you do this review, the greater the possibility of making changes to enhance your benefits when and if you do become disabled.

Be careful switching to part-time work  – Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employer must make “reasonable accommodation” for your medical condition to help you continue working. In many cases the accommodation is reduced hours, with accompanying reduced pay. If your hours drop low enough, you may lose access to benefits since they’re usually only available to full-time employees. Also, if you have an LTD program from work, the benefits are often tied to what you were earning at the time you stopped work. If you reduce your hours, you’ll also reduce your income and that will further reduce any LTD benefits you’re eligible for later.

Don’t burn any bridges when leaving work – Tempting though it is to tell your bosses just what you thought of their ability, hold it in, even if you know you will never return to work there. Your employer is important to a smooth transition to disability and most employers recognize that helping an employee go on disability is good for the company as well.


Copy! Copy! Copy! – Nothing should leave your hands that you don’t have a copy of. Every letter, every form, every application. Keep a copy.

Track all documents – Send forms and correspondence “Return Receipt Requested.” While it isn’t foolproof, it can provide some help in tracking down lost mail. When possible, deliver Social Security forms and correspondence to the local Social Security office personally and request an itemized, written receipt or enclose a handwritten receipt and self-addressed stamped envelope and ask them to sign the receipt and return it to you.

Don’t let small spaces on the forms scare you. I’m convinced some claim forms intentionally put a tiny amount of space for answers just to keep you off-balance and encourage you not to say much. I don’t know of a single carrier or government agency that won’t accept additional sheets of information. Simply label, “See attached” in the space on the form, and put your full answer on an attached sheet. Make sure you carefully label the question and answer.

You can’t overdo it with identification. It’s so easy for papers to get lost or misplaced. I recommend to my clients that they put their name and Social Security number (or other identifying number) at the top of every page of every form.

Sleep on it before mailing. Once you’ve completed claim forms or questionnaires, set them aside for a day or two. You will usually think of things to add to the forms. Then re-read the forms, make any changes and additions, then send them in.


Maintain a phone log – Every time to you talk the insurance company or Social Security or your employer or anyone regarding your benefits, keep a written record of the call. Name, phone number, date and time of call, what was said, outcome or next step.

Get it in writing – The best record is the written record. It’s not always possible and it may be slower than phone calls, but it’s much easier to re-construct if necessary. What you are told by the insurance company over the phone doesn’t mean a thing. Some people will say almost anything over the phone, knowing that they won’t be held responsible. If they have to put it in writing, chances are they will make sure they are right before writing it down.

Try asking something like, “I have trouble remembering things and this is so complicated. Could you put that in writing and send it to me?”  

Talk to the person, not the office – It’s easy to picture monsters and ogres working for the companies and squealing with glee when they refuse your claim (and there are enough like that to be really scary), but these people are mostly human and just trying to do their job. Treat them as a person, try to be friendly, try to personalize the conversation, and you may find you have an ally who will help and not be an obstacle.  Then again, don’t expect miracles.

Be generous with compliments – If the claims representative goes out of their way or gives you better than expected service, let them know.

Honey works better than vinegar – You’re much more likely to get the attention and advice of a claims representative by playing the helpless, ill, lost-in-the-system role. Demands, orders and threats won’t help your case move any faster, at least not initially.

Watch what you say on the telephone – When you call an insurance company or Social Security, you often get the recording, “Your call may be monitored or recorded for quality assurance.” That generally means the phone call is being recorded. Even a comment like, “I’m fine thanks. How are you?” can be turned against you.

Don’t bother with threats – These people are regularly threatened with lawsuits and insurance department complaints. Don’t threaten legal action, but if warranted, take it. Exhaust all internal appeals processes first though.

Double-check what you are told - I’m sorry if this sounds very cynical; I don’t mean you should distrust everyone. However, in this case, you can’t be too careful. This is your life, your income, your continued health insurance we’re talking about, and no one cares about it as much as you do.

People will sometimes give you information off the top of their head without realizing that the wrong information can cost you money and/or insurance. You’re trying to find the answers to surviving in the future; they’re trying to get off the phone. It’s important that you try to double-check such information.

Give the full story - It’s amazing how one little piece of information, which may seem unimportant to you, can change the whole picture. Be sure when asking for advice that you give as complete description of the situation as possible, and answer all questions truthfully and completely.

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