Is a Traumatic Brain Injury Considered a Disability?

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Suffering from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be a life-altering event. TBIs are generally caused by outside forces, typically severe jolts or blows to the head. These injuries are generally thought of as resulting from sports. However, most TBIs are caused by motor vehicle accidents. Whatever the cause of the injury, suffering from a TBI can have major impacts on your daily life. Some of the typical symptoms of a TBI include confusion, blurry vision, concentration difficulty, and even long-term cognitive impairments.

TBIs are rated either mild, moderate, or severe, depending upon how much damage to the brain there is. You may have heard of someone suffering from a concussion. That would generally be considered a mild form of traumatic brain injury. A concussion causes temporary symptoms that generally resolve in a few days to a few weeks. Moderate-to-severe brain injuries have longer recovery times, sometimes resulting in permanent physical and/or mental disabilities. The most severe TBIs cause permanent brain damage, coma, or even death.

To diagnose your condition as a traumatic brain injury, your doctor may perform testing including the Glasgow coma scale, speech and language tests, neuropsychological tests, and imaging. Imaging would include a computed tomography (CT) scan or even a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of your brain.

SSD Eligibility

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If you are struggling to work due to a traumatic brain injury, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits. SSD benefits are available for individuals who are suffering from severe conditions affecting their abilities to work. SSD does not require a total inability to work, but your work capability must be significantly limited. It also requires proof that you meet the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability. The Social Security Administration (SSA) defines disability as the inability to perform the substantial gainful activity due to a severe physical and/or mental condition which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of no less than 12 months.

To apply for the SSD program, you can complete an online application, you may call the national SSD hotline, or you could go into your local SSD office to complete the application. While you do not need legal representation to file for SSD benefits, it is highly recommended as there are numerous regulations involved in making a disability determination. You may think it is obvious that you are unable to work; however, the SSA needs to follow very strict guidelines in determining if an individual is disabled.

Substantial Gainful Activity

The SSA will first consider whether you are engaging in substantial gainful activity. You can still work while qualifying for disability benefits; however, the amount you are working must be minimal. All this means is that the SSA will evaluate if you are currently working. If you are, and you are earning over a certain amount of money per month, you will automatically be disqualified for the program. SSD benefits are meant to assist individuals who are either not working at all or earning very minimal every month due to their medical conditions.


The second consideration is whether your condition is severe or not. The SSA will determine whether your condition poses more than a minimal impact upon your ability to work. This threshold tends to be very low, but still requires a showing of proof in terms of severity.

A or B Criteria

The third consideration is whether you meet one of the SSA’s listed impairments. The SSA has a list of medical conditions it has deemed to be so severe that, if proven, you will automatically be found disabled. Traumatic brain injury is evaluated using listing 11.18. This listing requires a showing of either the A criteria or the B criteria.

The A criteria require proof of disorganization of motor function in two extremities resulting in an extreme limitation in the ability to stand up from a seated position, balance while standing or walking, or use the upper extremities, persisting for at least 3 consecutive months after the injury.

The B criteria require proof of marked limitations in one of the following areas for a minimum of 3 consecutive months after the injury: understanding, remembering, or applying information; interacting with others; concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace; or adapting or managing oneself. It can be quite difficult to prove you meet an SSA listing.

Residual Functional Capacity

If you are found not to meet a listing, this does not mean you are not disabled. It simply means the SSA will need to evaluate and determine what your residual functional capacity (RFC) is. Your RFC is the maximum you are physically and/or mentally capable of doing. Once your RFC is determined, the SSA will consider whether your RFC allows for you to perform your past relevant work.

Past Relevant Work

Past relevant work is defined as the work you have performed in the past fifteen years. This work must have been performed long enough to learn it and you must have earned substantial gainful activity for the position. If your RFC is determined to rule out your past work, the final consideration will be whether there is other work in the national economy in which you could perform. Your age will have a major impact on your ability to learn new work. According to the SSA, the older you are, the less likely you will be to be retrained to perform other work. Generally, once you reach the age of 50, the likelihood of you being retrained for other work begins to decrease dramatically.

Additional Reviews

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One thing to keep in mind at the resolution of your case is that approval of SSD benefits does not mean the SSA will consider you permanently disabled. The SSA may do a review of your claim periodically to ensure you are still disabled. These reviews can occur 12 months after you are first found disabled or even five years later. When the SSA reviews your case, the organization will request copies of your current medical records. As long as your medical records show you are still suffering from conditions affecting your functional capacity, your SSD benefits will continue. For this reason, you must continue to receive medical treatment after your SSD approval. If you do not seek continued treatment, the SSA will have a solid reason to take away your SSD benefits, meaning you would have to start the process all over again, waiting another 2-3 years.

As you can see, the SSD program can be complex to navigate. If you have been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury that is affecting your ability to work, contact an experienced SSD attorney at LaBovick Law Group. We can help apply for and receive the SSD benefits to which you’re entitled.

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