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Disability Takes A Long Time
Q: I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1997 at age 29. Since then, I have married, graduated magna cum laude from Rutgers University with my bachelor's degree and began graduate studies, had two beautiful daughters and worked for a law firm for more than 12 years. I have been one of the top 10 fundraisers for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and have volunteered in nursing homes.

My MS now makes it impossible for me to work. I've developed seizures, weakness in my limbs, problems with coordination and difficulty with vision. I grow fatigued and suffer memory and cognitive losses as a result of the MS.

I have been waiting on Social Security disability help since I left my job in March 2007.

Because of the nightmare of the Social Security disability system, I've hired a lawyer, who'll receive up to $5,000 of my disability award once it is approved. But how do we survive until then? Our children are 5 and 7. We have a mortgage, utilities and car bills we must pay. We nearly lost our home to foreclosure last month and are behind in bills. The stress is a major trigger for an MS flare up.

In February, Social Security denied me benefits even though my prior employer certified my inability to work and described how my work changed as the disease progressed. I had reports from my doctor, who is one of the five top MS doctors in the nation.

I have worked since I was 16 and never imagined becoming ill. I didn't let my MS rule my life. I don't understand how the system can turn its back on me and drag its feet like this.

C.K., Lavallette

A: The Social Security Administration has called you to discuss details, which are confidential, spokesman John E. Shallman replies.

What makes the process difficult is that the law strictly defines disability, Shallman says. Clients have to prove an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to a medically determinable impairment that is either fatal or will last at least 12 months. The impairment must be so severe it prevents a person from doing not just previous work but also any work, considering their age, education and work experience.

MS is cyclical and varies in severity and day-to-day effects, so the SSA attempts to use as many doctors' opinions and a cross-section of factors to determine the disability decision, he says. There is no one judgment because the effects are so different on each person.

This article was taken from the Troubleshooter Column, of the Asbury Park Press posted May 25th 2008