Social Security Disability for Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker Syndrome

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Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker Syndrome (abbreviated as GSS) is a rare neurodegenerative brain disorder. It is extremely rare and almost always inherited. The typical age of onset is between the ages of 35 and 55. The symptoms, progression of the disease, and level of severity can greatly vary among affected individuals.

What are the symptoms of GSS?

At the early stages of GSS, individuals may experience ataxia, which is a lack of muscle coordination. This can look like unsteadiness when walking, clumsiness or overall difficulty walking. As the disease progresses, the affected individual’s ataxia continues to worsen. The person may begin to experience spasticity, slurring of speech, and disturbances in vision which could lead to blindness. In addition to physical symptoms, most people with GSS develop dementia and experience worsening problems with thought, cognition, memory, behavior, and language.

How is GSS diagnosed?

There are several possible diagnostic options for diagnosing GSS. A doctor may order an MRI of the brain to detect the brain degeneration pattern which occurs in individuals with GSS. A CT scan of the head may also be ordered to rule out any other causes of the symptoms the person is experiencing. An EEG of the brain may be ordered to measure electrical brain activity as a diagnostic tool. Single-photon emission computed tomography, abbreviated as SPECT, can be used to determine whether the blood flow in the brain is reduced. Reduced blood flow in the brain may be an indicator of early GSS.

How is GSS treated?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for GSS. It is a slow and progressive condition which typically lasts from 2 years until 10 years. The disease leads to severe disability and is ultimately a terminal condition. Prior to passing away, the individual with GSS often goes into a coma or has a secondary infection such as aspiration pneumonia, which is caused by an impaired ability to swallow. Any treatment the individual with GSS receives is to address the associated symptoms of the disease. If a person is experiencing seizures, antiseizure medications such as antiepileptics or anticonvulsants can be prescribed. If the person is experiencing myoclonus, clonazepam may be prescribed. Additionally, a feeding tube may be appropriate if the person is having very severe swallowing problems.

How can Social Security Disability benefits help me?

Social Security Disability Insurance is a federal program for people who are not able to work due to a severe physical or mental condition. The condition must last or be expected to last for at least one year or result in death. The condition must keep the person from being able to work for at least one year. In order to be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, the person needs to have worked and paid taxes on their earnings for at least five of the last ten years.

If a person is approved for benefits, they will receive a monthly amount which is based on the amount the person paid through taxes. This monthly benefit amount can widely vary. Additionally, a person who is approved for Social Security Disability Insurance becomes eligible for Medicare two years and five months after their date of disability, which Social Security refers to as the alleged onset date.

Will I automatically qualify for benefits if I am diagnosed with GSS?

As discussed above, GSS unfortunately is ultimately a terminal condition. Social Security classifies certain cases as TERI cases, which qualify for expedited processing on the basis of the condition being terminal. Social Security defines a terminal illness as “a medical condition that is untreatable and expected to result in death.” Cases, where the conditions meet Social Security’s definition of terminal, should be flagged as TERI cases. However, sometimes Social Security processes these claims incorrectly and does not flag the case as it should. Hiring an experienced Social Security Disability attorney will ensure that your case is flagged correctly.

Once a case is flagged as a TERI case, it is eligible for expedited processing. Additionally, Social Security maintains a list of compassionate allowance conditions which may by definition meet Social Security’s requirements for disability benefits. Although GSS is not specifically named on the Compassionate Allowances List, an experienced attorney may nevertheless advocate that your condition is severe enough or close enough to another on the list that it should qualify.

In addition, Social Security maintains a listing of impairments. If a person is diagnosed with one of the conditions included in the listing of impairments and meets all medical criteria, they will be found disabled. GSS is not included in the listing of impairments. However, a Social Security Disability attorney can argue that your condition equals a listing – meaning, that it is equal in severity and duration to the criteria of any listed impairment.

What happens if I pass away before Social Security makes a decision on my case?

In the unfortunate event that the person passes before Social Security awards benefits, an eligible person can receive benefits in their place. This person is referred to as a Substitution of Party. Social Security can award benefits to the surviving spouse, child, parent, or administrator or executor of the deceased person’s estate (these are listed in order). In order to file as a Substitution of Party, you must complete a Substitution of Party Upon Death of Claimant form. Additionally, you will need to provide the long form of the person’s death certificate. This is the version of the death certificate which lists the person’s cause of death.

Call LaBovick Law Group for help with the benefits you deserve!

Our Social Security Disability attorneys are experienced in medically complex and terminal conditions and are here to help you through the process and fight for the benefits that you and your family need. Give us a call today at (561) 625-8400 for a free case evaluation. Whether you need to file your initial application or have a hearing scheduled and need representation, we are ready to fight to win.


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