Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits with Multiple Sclerosis

April 15, 2014 in

What is Multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body. This disease eats away at the protective sheath that covers your nerves. This damage then interferes with the transmission of nerve signals between the brain and spinal cord.

What causes MS?

Studies have shown that MS occurs more frequently in areas that are farther from the equator. It is suggested that exposure to naturally produced vitamin D helps protect against immune-mediated diseases. Smoking is also shown to increase your chances of developing MS. If you quit smoking your condition will generally progress at a slower rate. MS is not hereditary, but if your mother or father has the gene then you will generally be predisposed to it.

What are the symptoms of MS?

MS can be tricky because many other conditions can have the same symptoms. MS is diagnosed by ruling out other conditions. People generally tend to exhibit their first symptoms between the ages of 20 and 40. Symptoms can vary widely for this disease depending upon the amount of damage to the nerves and which body part is affected. The following is a breakdown of different bodily features that are affected:

  • Muscle symptoms: loss of balance, muscle spasms, problems moving limbs, tremors, weakness or numbness.
  • Bowel and bladder symptoms: constipation, urinary frequency or difficulty urinating.
  • Vision symptoms: blurriness, rapid eye movements or vision loss.
  • Mental symptoms: poor concentration, depression, dizziness and fatigue.
  • Speech symptoms: slurred speech, trouble chewing or swallowing.

MS is similar to snowflakes in that no two people have exactly the same symptoms. For the early stages of this disease, your symptoms may come on in shorter periods of time. These “attacks” can last for days, months or weeks, and are usually followed by a period of remission where no symptoms are exhibited. The more severe the disease the less likely it is you are having periods of remission.

There is currently no known cure for MS, but treatment can slow down the progression of the disease significantly.

How do I qualify for Social Security disability benefits if I have MS?

Many individuals suffering from MS apply for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits because in many cases the “attacks” from this disease make you unreliable as an employee, having to take many days of work off. If your condition is progressive you may even have difficulty tending to your everyday household chores. When a disease or debilitating condition prevents you from working and affects your daily routine, you will most likely qualify for SSD benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes MS as a condition that may qualify you for disability benefits.

There are two ways to qualify for benefits:

  1.  By meeting or equaling a listing
  2. By showing you have a reduced residual functional capacity

To meet a listing, you must show that your condition meets the requirements that SSA has set forth under that particular disease listing. MS is covered under Listing 11.09, and to meet this listing you  must prove any of the following:

  1. Disorganization of motor function as described in 11.04B
  2. Visual or mental impairment as described under the criteria; 2.02, 2.03, 2.04, or 12.02
  3. Significant, reproducible fatigue of motor function with substantial muscle weakness on repetitive activity, demonstrated on physical examination, resulting from neurological dysfunction in areas of the central nervous system known to be pathologically involved by the multiple sclerosis process.

If SSA determines you do not meet or equal a listing, you may still be considered disabled based on your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC describes the most you can do in spite of your functional limitations. It is more common for SSA to find an individual disabled based upon their RFC versus a listing. Your RFC is determined based upon your symptoms, medical records, opinions from your treating doctors and your testimony – whether it be through questionnaires or at a hearing.

Getting on disability benefits is not the beginning of the end. It is a pathway for healing.  These SSD benefits make it possible for individuals to focus on their recovery rather than worrying about their bills.

Now that you think you may qualify for disability benefits, how do you file an application? :

Filing for disability benefits can be done online, over the phone or through the mail. Certainly, the easiest way to file an application is on the internet. If you decide to apply over the phone you could face significant wait periods before speaking with a representative from the Social Security Administration. Applying by mail may run you the risk of SSA losing your paperwork.

Filing for SSD benefits is extensive. It requires a significant amount of information regarding your work history and your home life. After submitting the application SSA will send you several questionnaires in order to get a better idea of how your condition affects you. When filling out these forms you should answer them based on your bad days, not on your good days. If you answer the questions based on your good days then SSA will have the impression you don’t have any limitations — when in fact more often than not this is far from the truth. It is a good idea to seek representation when completing the paperwork. An attorney can help you navigate the system and complete the forms, so SSA has an accurate picture of your situation.

What if my application for disability benefits is denied?

If you are denied (and about 70% of people are), the next step would be to appeal your claim to the reconsideration stage. Many of my clients feel if they are denied at the initial application stage, then they must not be disabled. If you are denied based on medical reasons I always recommend appealing the initial denial. The reason being, often times SSA has made a decision based on an incomplete medical history. If you are denied a second time you then would request a hearing before an administrative law judge. The benefit of having a hearing is that the judge will get to see you in person. A decision will not be based solely on the medical records but will include your testimony at the hearing and testimony from a vocational expert.

Why should I hire an attorney?

When you hire an attorney to help you with your claim you no longer need to worry about maintaining contact with SSA.. Your attorney will do that for you.  He/she will be available to answer any questions you may have about the program. Your attorney will prepare your case for the hearing by collecting all necessary records, including medical records and statements from your doctor. And most importantly, your attorney will develop a legal theory as to why you are eligible for disability benefits.

If you are suffering from multiple sclerosis, I understand how hard the struggle can be. You should consider applying for Social Security disability benefits. If you are considering applying for benefits, let an experienced attorney handle the stress of applying for you, so you can focus on healing.