Protecting your MS disability rights is a top priority when you are struggling with this condition and unable to work.
When people are diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, they often have to learn to live with unpredictability. The disease impedes the flow of information in the brain and the brain’s ability to send the right messages to the body, but it does not present the same way in everyone. While most people with MS have relatively normal life spans, they do typically struggle with frequent pain, which can be debilitating, and other symptoms.
This can make completing normal activities of daily living a challenge – not to mention working. Fortunately, the Social Security Administration recognizes MS as a “qualifying condition.” This means that individuals with a diagnosis automatically qualify for Social Security Disability benefits if they meet the criteria in the SSA’s Blue Book.
Improving the Chances of Getting Disability Benefits
Most people do not realize that it is incredibly rare for applications for disability benefits to be approved on the first try. In fact, in all but the most severe cases, they are routinely denied. This is true for those struggling with MS as well, even though it is a qualifying condition.
About 300,000 people in the US have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. If you are one of them and your condition makes it impossible to work, your application for Social Security Disability benefits will be approved if you can prove of:
- The inability to effectively control movement in at least two extremities results in difficulty balancing while standing or walking, standing up from a seated position, or using both arms and/or hands.
- “Marked” (i.e. worse than moderate) physical issues with a “marked” limitation in thinking (remembering, using information, comprehending), social interactions, or concentrating and/or finishing tasks.
The SSA may decide that you do not meet this criterion but that does not mean you cannot receive Social Security Disability. It does mean, however, that your first application will likely be denied. Again, please remember that this is the norm rather than the exception. Do not give up on your MS disability rights.
To increase your chances of getting disability benefits:
Be honest on your function report. The Social Security Administration will send you a function report form that asks questions regarding your ability to complete activities of daily living, or ADLs. These include:
- Are you able to cook your own food? What do you cook, and how long does it take you?
- Do you spend any time with other people?
- Do you have hobbies? If so, how often do you engage in them?
- Do you go places on a regular basis?
- Are you able to drive?
- Do you need help bathing, dressing, or feeding yourself?
It is natural to want to minimize your symptoms: you may feel embarrassed, for example, if you are not able to go to the bathroom or take a shower on your own. There is no shame in having MS, and honesty allows the SSA to understand the impact your condition has on your everyday life.
Some questions are more difficult. For instance, if you can engage in your hobbies on some days but you cannot on others because of blurred vision (remember, MS is unpredictable), check both “yes” and “no” and give a short explanation.
Keep a log of your symptoms. You may experience numbness, difficulty balancing, weakness, excessive fatigue, blurred vision, and other symptoms. Make a note of them and how they impacted you (e.g. 9/12/18: experienced numbness; could not walk or hold utensils). If your medication makes you drowsy or sedated, note it. If fatigue makes your other symptoms worse, write it down.
Ask for an assistive device. If you have difficulty walking, even if occasional, ask your doctor to prescribe you a cane, walker, wheelchair, or scooter. This provides further proof to the SSA that MS has affected your ability to balance and/or walk.
Inform the SSA about any other health issues. Even if you have conditions unrelated to MS, make sure the SSA knows about them. By themselves, they may not be enough to prevent you from working, but in conjunction with your MS, they can prove to disable.
Choose a third party to provide evidence to the SSA. The SSA may request that a third party provide a report on your ability to complete ADLs. It is best if this is a close friend, family member, or someone who lives with you. They will see how your condition affects you and give the SSA important information to bolster your case. We know that people often downplay their symptoms: choose those who are familiar with your struggles to provide this evidence.
See if you meet medical-vocational guidelines. If you do not meet the criteria listed in the Blue Book for MS, you may still meet the “medical-vocational” criteria. These guidelines relate to your ability to perform work-related activities based on your age, educational level, prior work experience, and your residual functional capacity, or RFC.
Your RFC may be sedentary, light, medium, or heavy, which indicates the level of work of which the SSA believes you capable. The SSA’s medical expert will evaluate this using evidence such as your medical records and consultative exams paid for by the SSA.
Contact an experienced Social Security Disability attorney. This professional will review your application and help you resubmit a strong and compelling case for benefits. Do not feel as if you have to go this road alone. Legal representation increases your chances of getting disability benefits.
If your application for Social Security Disability benefits was denied, do not give up. We can help you get the financial support you need when you are living with MS and unable to work.