Union, Missouri – Wendy Anderson has arthritis and fibromyalgia, which was diagnosed in July 2008. Pain from the illnesses forced her to quit her job in December of that year after a 10-year career with the U. S. Postal Service in Charleston, W.Va. Her data entry duties required sitting at a computer for long periods.
“I could sit for about 10 minutes before it started hurting,” Ms. Anderson added. “But after 20 minutes I had to get up.” Sometimes, “my hands hurt so bad that I couldn’t do my job.”
Multiple breaks each hour affected her production. “The post office has an emphasis on speed,” Ms. Anderson pointed out. “My speed was getting slower because my hands were hurting and the extra breaks slowed my production. Some supervisors weren’t happy about that. They were trying to work with me, but it got to be too much.”
Making matters worse, she couldn’t perform other jobs in the postal service, which require standing, lifting and carrying. “I knew there wasn’t going to be another job they could find me,” she said.
Ms. Anderson, 48, had a hip replaced five years ago, after enduring four years of pain. Now she needs surgery to replace both knees and yet another to repair a shoulder.
While still working, she applied for benefits under the Family Medical Leave Act, but was told she didn’t qualify. “They said I wouldn’t qualify if I left work, and if I’d stayed, I wouldn’t have been able to function,” Ms. Anderson said.
After leaving the postal service, she applied for Missouri Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, but she was denied. She tried to get disability benefits through the postal service, but the application and other paperwork were delayed after her year of eligibility expired.
She heard about a company called Allsup from a friend who used the service in 2001. Founded in 1984 by a former Social Security Administration field representative, Allsup is the nation’s leading SSDI representation company. Today, with more than 700 employees, Allsup has helped more than 150,000 people with disabilities secure their SSDI and Medicare benefits. The company is based in Belleville, Ill., near St. Louis.
Ms. Anderson applied for SSDI benefits in January 2009 and was denied benefits in May of that year. Allsup began representing her a month later and the company received the decision in December of that year. “They were very helpful. I didn’t have to go to a hearing. I didn’t have to wait for her to call me back,” Ms. Anderson said, referring to Allsup senior claimant representative Glenda Mercurio-Tosto. “It was very convenient. They were very easy to deal with.”
According to Ms. Mercurio-Tosto, some states skip the second level of the appeals process and move to the third level. At this stage, she submitted a brief to an administrative law judge, pleading the case for Ms. Anderson to receive SSDI benefits based on disability related to fibromyalgia and degenerative disc disease in her knees and shoulders. “These cases are generally difficult because judges often do not find a diagnosis of fibromyalgia credible because it is difficult to document,” Ms. Mercurio-Tosto said. “Also, Ms. Anderson has reflex sympathetic dystrophy, another disease difficult to diagnose.”
In addition to regular monthly SSDI benefits, Ms. Anderson will begin receiving Medicare benefits in June, which is automatic after two years of SSDI eligibility.
Today, she uses a cane when outside the house and a motorized chair in large stores. “I’m glad Walgreens has a drive-up window,” Ms. Anderson said. She said she is fortunate the stores she frequents are not far from home, because sitting in a vehicle for about 10 miles is all she can tolerate. She has an SUV, which is easier to enter than a car.
She vacuums carpeting in small sections, and she needs to rest between unloading and loading the dishwasher. She often eats microwave meals, because “it’s too much to stand and cook.”
There is no cure for fibromyalgia, a disease that causes long-term, body-wide pain and tenderness in joints, muscles, tendons and soft tissues. It also causes fatigue, morning stiffness, sleep problems, headaches and numbness in the hands and feet.
The cause of the disease is unknown. Ms. Anderson’s life partner is a registered nurse who has had the disease for nine years and also receives SSDI benefits.
She was able to warn Ms. Anderson what to expect. “She takes care of me when I can’t get out of bed,” Ms. Anderson said. “There are some days I can’t take a deep breath. She lets me know how to deal with it. There are some days I can do things and other days I can’t. Even on days I can do things, I have to limit what I do.”
Not having to work or meet a schedule helps her cope with the pain and discomfort. She says that in addition to medicine, meditation also helps her to get some relief. Ms. Anderson has advice for people with fibromyalgia: “You need to find support and don’t overdo it, because you’ll pay for it later. If you feel you can’t work, there are people out there like Allsup who can help you take care of yourself.”