How to Apply for Disability Through Your Employer

Robin Mead

Long Term Disability (LTD) and Short Term Disability (STD) are disability insurance policies offered through your employer.

If your employer doesn’t offer this insurance, skip this article and go have a nice snack.

If your employer offers disability insurance, you are very lucky. Private insurance decisions are sometimes much quicker than Social Security disability.

Some people are able to start collecting disability right away, instead of having to wait months or years.

Here are some tips:

Protect Yourself

If you are still working or still employed now, here’s a few very important things you need to know: How to Protect Yourself if Your Employer Offers LTD

Getting Started

If you have not yet started applying, this is what most people do: Take FMLA or a little sick leave and while out they apply for Short Term Disability. If their condition is expected to continue, then they apply for Long Term Disability and Social Security Disability. If you are still employed, but out on leave, you can list on the Social Security forms that your last day worked is the last day you actually performed any work, and note that you are on disability leave and not working. Please do not quit your job. Here’s an article about this Resignations and Short Term Disability.

The Whistleblower

Linda Nee has an excellent blog that many people find very helpful. She is a “whistleblower.” She used to work for the Long Term Disability companies and now she tells people about all their dirty tricks and secrets. Needless to say, the Long Term Disability companies do not like her very much. She also offers consultation services.


This law office has created an interesting collection of videos and stories about each different Long Term Disability Company. In the comments, people tell you what they really think about each one!

Mental Health Caps

It’s very important to read your policy. Many Long Term Disability policies have a cap on mental health claims. After two years they will try to stop paying you! If this is in your policy, the insurance company may try to push you into a mental health diagnosis.

On the other hand, ironically, for Social Security disability, mental health can be a big help to your case! Many people with Lyme, CFS, ME or related conditions report that including mental health was the main reason they got approved.

So, there is no wrong or right answer here. Read your policy and think over what is right for you.

Chronic Pain and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Caps

Some of the newer policies also have a two year cap on chronic pain and chronic fatigue conditions. If you have Fibro, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or a related condition, there are a few important things you need to know. Long Term Disability for Chronic Pain and Chronic Fatigue

Other Caps

Many policies also cap eating disorders and somatoform disorders (“psychosomatic illness”). Some specifically list a cap on lyme disease, environmental illness, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Please read your policy.

The LTD company does not want to pay you forever. They may work hard to prove that you have one of the capped conditions. Or they may try to approve you for the capped condition, and ignore your other conditions.

Peony’s Story

Peony appealed and won her LTD case, and learned quite a lot along the way. She has some truly excellent advice for anyone applying. Please read How Peony Won Her LTD

Proving You Cannot Work

There are two kinds of LTD policies. For some you have to prove you can no longer do your current job. For others you have to prove you can no longer do ANY job. Check your polici. You may find it helpful to read some of Peony’s tips on How to Prove You Cannot return to your current job

What Else to Watch Out For

Long Term Disability companies are known for being troublesome. Those nice people from the from the insurance company that call you on the phone or want to drop by your house and check on you, those are not your friends. They may also videotape or photograph you outside your home. Learn your rights and protect yourself. (See Linda Nee’s blog above).

They may also call you and record what you say and use it against you. When in doubt, try saying: “I am following my doctor’s medical advice. Please refer to my medical records for an answer to your question.”


Most disability lawyers do not handle Long Term Disability claims. You do not need a lawyer to apply, however, many people highly recommend getting one for an appeal.

If you wish to hire a lawyer, you will need to find someone who specializes in Long Term Disability (also called “erisa” claims). These lawyers can be expensive and some will take a part of your check every month for the rest of your life. Read your contract carefully and make thoughtful decisions about how much to pay a lawyer.


Some people on Long Term Disability report that having a supportive doctor is critical. For many insurance companies, there is quite a bit of paperwork for the doctor to fill out.

People who have been through it report that you need a doctor who is willing to help with paperwork and who really supports you and believes you absolutely cannot work. You also need a willingness to stand up for yourself. No matter what the disability company says, you need to be clear that your doctor has told you that you are too sick to work and you are following your doctor’s guidance.

Sometimes the insurance company will send a doctor and important form and only give ten days to respond. Its a good idea to stay in touch about forms.

Some people report that they had success by getting copies of all forms themselves, bringing them to the doctor, sitting with the doctor while they get filled out, and then mailing them to the insurance company by certified mail.

Other Forms of Disability

Some states offer short term state disability, and some states offer small amounts of cash assistance. Learn more: How to Apply for Disability 17 Times

When to Apply for Social Security

Social Security is a different form of disability than Long Term Disability. We cannot stress this enough: YOU MUST APPLY FOR SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY ALSO.

We have heard from several readers who (for a variety of reasons) put all their energy into applying or appealing LTD, and never tried for Social Security. DO NOT DO THIS. We are writing all in caps here because we have seen what happens to people who do not do this, and it is not good.

If you are approved for LTD, your insurance company will probably require you to apply for Social Security Disability, and there will be a deadline. If you are not approved and you are appealing, you won’t be required to apply for Social Security. You should still do it.

Please do not wait to apply for Social Security. If you want to take a few weeks to put together all your medical documents before applying, that is fine. Please do not let many months pass. Do not let years pass.

How to Apply for Social Security

Applying for Social Security is a different process, though everything you did for LTD will also help your Social Security application. There’s a whole lot more great things you can do: How and Where to Apply for Social Security Disability

Many people lose their LTD at the two year point. However, some people stay on LTD and collect both. This is not as exciting as it sounds. You will need to read your insurance policy, but for most people, SSDI does not mean any additional money, since anything you receive just gets subtracted from your LTD check.

One little bright spot is that Social Security will give you Medicare.

Social Security Lawyers

Many LTD companies will assign you to a Social Security lawyer and may give you the impression that you must use their lawyer. This is not true. You have the right to select your own lawyer or to use no lawyer.

LTD companies may also give you the impression that their lawyers are “free” but this is not the case. Social Security sets the fees for lawyers and pays the lawyer out of your backpay. It is the same no matter what lawyer you use. After the lawyer gets paid, whatever is left over usually goes to the LTD company.

A lawyer assigned by an LTD company may ask you to sign an agreement stating that the LTD company can take money directly out of your bank account when you are approved for Social Security. There is no reason why you have to sign this.

After Approval

If you get approved for Social Security, don’t get attached to your backpay check (and don’t spend it!). The LTD company is going to ask you to send them all or most of it. Some readers report that since they were already cut off LTD by that time, and their credit was already ruined, they just decided not to pay the backpay, since private debt collectors cannot garnish Social Security checks.

If you pay back your LTD, it may be a large transfer of money ($10k, $20k, or more). Some people pay by credit card so they can get cash back or bonus points.

Tips from Readers

“Keep copies of all office visits, tests, procedures etc. I have FOUR large binders. My insurance company conveniently states they aren’t getting records from my doctors. So I personally mail everything requiring a signature even when I’m confident they already received and sitting on someone’s desk.”

“Always request and collect full records with treatment notes – not online records or visit summaries. To get treatment notes, you have to sign forms and pay money.”

Ready to Be Great? 

There are many things you can do to strengthen your Social Security case, and most of them will also be a great help to your LTD case, too. So, might as well get started now! How to Greatly, Greatly (Greatly!) Improve Your Disability Application

Updated January 2018. Please comment below with stories, questions, input or ideas. Please let us know if any links on this page stop working. If you found this page helpful, please use one of these magic buttons to share this post on Facebook or Twitter:

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