Published May 2015
For Angela, applying to receive disability payments was a humbling experience. Sharing intimate details about her disability made her extremely uncomfortable. But she’s glad she did—and that Social Security was there for her when she needed it.
Angela lives with multiple sclerosis, a serious disease of the central nervous system. This condition disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. People with multiple sclerosis can experience a range of debilitating symptoms, including muscle spasms, difficulty moving and maintaining balance, trouble speaking or swallowing, and chronic pain. These problems tend to worsen over time.
It wasn’t always this way. Before her disability became overwhelming, Angela worked as a full-time teacher. She loved her job and her daily contact with students. As her symptoms grew harder to manage, her employer adjusted her responsibilities and schedule so that she could continue doing what she loves.
Eventually, she could no longer maintain the pace that her position required. At that point, she had no choice but to stop working. She describes leaving her job as one of the hardest decisions she’s ever had to make.
In addition to coping with her severe disability, Angela now had two other pressing concerns. Most urgently, she was afraid she would be unable to continue supporting herself and her family. Besides her financial worries, she also desperately missed interacting with her students. With her rewarding career on hold, she felt “lost and adrift,” wondering about her purpose in life.
This crisis threatened not only her livelihood, but also her identity.
To address her troubled finances, she decided to file a Social Security disability insurance claim. Like most workers in the United States, Angela had earned this insurance coverage by paying Social Security taxes throughout her career. Now, circumstances required her to make use of it.
Social Security evaluated her application and necessary medical evidence. After determining that her condition meets our strict definition of disability, we gave her claim the green light. The approval letter came as a great relief. Her monthly Social Security payments help Angela keep up with her financial obligations, including paying for her daughter’s college education.
About the time she filed her Social Security claim, she came upon an online teaching opportunity and decided to apply. She hoped this might be a way for her to resume teaching while dealing with her mounting health issues. As it turned out, the exciting new world of Internet education suited her needs perfectly. Today, she’s an online faculty member at a major university.
She continues to receive Social Security payments in months when her earnings are not enough for us to consider substantial. Whether or not she is ever able to return to a full work schedule, she’s happy to have discovered resources that are helping her make the most of a tremendously challenging situation—financially, professionally, and personally. Social Security is an essential part of this support system.
How Would YOU Have Paid Your Bills?
Imagine how you would continue earning a living if a condition like multiple sclerosis interfered with everyday activities that you usually take for granted, such as walking without assistance, moving your arms and hands normally, and speaking clearly. Suppose, on top of all this, you also had to cope with chronic pain.
If these symptoms prevented you from working, would you still be able to support yourself and your family?
Like Angela, you’d probably be glad you had paid into Social Security.
Workers and employers pay for Social Security disability insurance coverage through taxes on workers’ earnings. Congress created this system nearly 60 years ago so that workers and their families would have something to fall back on in case a severe disability like advanced multiple sclerosis makes working impossible.
For Angela and the estimated 165 million workers covered under Social Security, this program provides a critical safety net.