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But even as she cared for patients, she realized that something was off with her own health.
“I remember just feeling tired and feeling sick and hurting, and not knowing why my joints and body” hurt, she said.
Hashmi was diagnosed with systemic lupus, a medical condition in which the body’s immune system attacks its tissues and organs. She’s had surgery and other treatments, but now, at age 41, Hashmi is often bedridden. She finally had to leave her job about six years ago, but when she applied to the Social Security Administration for disability benefits, she was denied.
“I just started bawling,” she recalled. “I felt like, if they looked at my records or read these notes, surely they would understand my situation.”
In the U.S., fewer than half of people who apply for disability benefits — about 45 percent — are ultimately accepted, says Lisa Ekman with the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives. Getting a hearing takes an average of nearly 600 days.
“It is not easy to get disability benefits, and it’s a very complicated and difficult process,” Ekman said.
It may become even harder for people like Hashmi, whose disability is difficult to see or measure. This spring, the Social Security Administration introduced changes to fight fraud and streamline the application process, including a new rule that removes special consideration given to a person’s longtime doctor. Ekman said this is a mistake.
“Those changes would now put the evidence from a treating physician on the same weight as evidence from a medical consultant employed to do a one-time brief examination or a medical consultant they had do a review of the paper file and may have never examined the individual,” Ekman said.
She said this could lead to more denials for disabled people with complex conditions like lupus, multiple sclerosis or schizophrenia. These illnesses can affect patients in very different ways and may be hard for an unfamiliar doctor or nurse to evaluate. Ekman said more denials will lead to more appeals, which will increase the backlog.
That backlog started snowballing about 10 years ago, said Jason Fichtner; he’s now a senior research fellow in public policy at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, but was acting deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration back then.
For the original version including any supplementary images or video, visit http://khn.org/news/long-waits-and-long-odds-for-those-who-need-social-security-disability/
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