Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS and qualifying for Social Security Disability Benefits
Can I get disability benefits if I am suffering from the effects of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)?
Author: Attorney Greg Reed
As many as 30,000 people in the United States are affected by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and approximately 5,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. Also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, ALS is a progressive disease that affects nerves in the brain and spinal cord that control muscles. Though ALS can occur at any age, most people are diagnosed between the ages of 55 and 75. Cases before the age of 30 are rare. Some cases of ALS progress rapidly and many die within 5 years, while others can live more than 10 years after diagnosis. If you are suffering from the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis you may qualify for disability benefits.
When ALS occurs, the motor neurons that send messages from the brain to the spinal cord and muscles break down.
These motor neurons control all voluntary movements in the arms, legs and face, sending messages to the muscles to contract so a person can walk, run, pick up the phone, chew and swallow food, and breathe. When these motor neurons fail to send messages to muscles, the muscles become weak or stiff. A person gradually loses control over movement; at first, they may have trouble buttoning a shirt or turning a door knob, but after a while they won’t be able to move their arms, legs, or head. Eventually, the muscles in the diaphragm are affected and they may not be able to breath without a breathing machine.
If you are suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and have been denied disability don’t give up! Most are initially denied. Just call 512-454-4000 for a free, no obligation consultation to learn your options and have your questions patiently answered.
Symptoms of ALS vary from person to person and depend on which motor neurons are affected.
ALS generally begins in the hands, feet, or limbs and spreads to other parts of the body. Some early symptoms include:
- Stumbling or falling
- Weakness in legs, feet or ankles
- Difficulty swallowing or chewing
- Muscle cramps or stiffness
- Weakness in hands or clumsiness
- Slurred speech
- Cognitive and behavioral changes
- Inappropriate crying, laughing or yawning
Pain is uncommon in early or later stages of ALS and does not affect the senses.
People with ALS still experience all five senses – sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste – and can think and learn.
There are two types of ALS: Sporadic ALS and Familial ALS:
- Sporadic ALS occurs without a clear cause and affects 95% of all people with ALS.
- Familial ALS runs in families where the gene is passed to children by their parents. 5-10% of ALS cases are Familial ALS.
Though there is no known cause of ALS, researchers have suggested some possible links to the disease:
- Changes or mutations in genes. It is believed there are more than 12 different gene changes and mutations that are linked to ALS.
- Environment. Smoking or contact with certain chemicals; for example, 1991 Gulf War veterans have developed ALS at a higher rate due to toxic exposure during deployment.
- Glutamate. Glutamate is a chemical that sends signals to and from the brain. Build-up of glutamate in the system can damage nerve cells.
- Immune system problems. Immune cells in the brain called microglia that destroy germs and damaged cells may destroy healthy motor neurons.
- Mitochondria damage. Mitochondria is the part of the cell where energy is made. Damaged mitochondria may lead to ALS or make it worse.
- Oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when a cell is unable to detoxify reactive molecules, resulting in cellular damage. ALS has been found to have an accumulation of oxidative damage to proteins, lipids and DNA cells.
While there is no cure currently for ALS, early diagnosis and treatment can improve a patient’s quality of life.
Physical therapy and occupational therapy can help strengthen muscles and help a person perform daily tasks, such as holding a fork or brushing teeth. Speech therapy can help a person speak more clearly. Two different drugs, Relutek and Radicava, reduce glutamate in the system and are currently approved in the treatment of ALS. A doctor may also prescribe medications to manage other symptoms such as fatigue, depression, and sleep problems.
Qualifying for SSDI With Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS)
The sudden, rapid progression of ALS, in addition to the financial and medical costs, make Social Security disability benefits invaluable.
ALS most often strikes people between the ages of 40 and 60, when they may be the primary wage earner of a family. Approximately 1,000 people with ALS apply for Social Security Disability benefits each year.
The Social Security Administration recognizes ALS as a disabling impairment in its Blue Book under Sections 11.00 and 11.10:
We evaluate epilepsy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, coma or persistent vegetative state (PVS), and neurological disorders that cause disorganization of motor function, bulbar and neuromuscular dysfunction, communication impairment, or a combination of limitations in physical and mental functioning such as early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
To qualify for automatic benefits with ALS, you must provide the following medical evidence:
- . A formal diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis by a neurologist (not your primary care provider or general practitioner).
- Reports from neurological exams consistent with ALS, including tests of reflexes and motor function.
- Electromyography (EMG) – a recording technique that detects electrical activity of muscle fibers.
- Nerve conduction studies which detect the ability of nerves to send electrical impulses.
Applying for SSDI can be a long process and people with ALS may wonder what happens when they cannot wait months for approval of benefits due to the severity of their medical condition.
. In cases such as ALS, the Social Security Disability Compassionate Allowance program can help. This program was created in response to complaints about long delays in the disability determination process and provides assistance to applicants whose medical conditions are so serious it’s obvious they would qualify for disability under a Social Security impairment listing. It allows Social Security to target the most seriously disabled applicants and grant benefits quickly after applying.
Having a diagnosis of ALS makes you automatically eligible for SSDI because ALS is included in Social Security’s list of Compassionate Allowance diseases.
The ALS Disability Insurance Access Act of 2019 eliminated the 5-month waiting period for people with ALS who were approved for Social Security Disability benefits on or after July 23, 2020. . After applying, you do not have to do anything for expedited processing and should receive a determination within a couple of weeks. Once approved for SSDI, you are also automatically enrolled in Medicare.
It’s important to note that approval of Social Security Disability benefits also depends on whether or not you have met basic financial requirements for SSDI.
. In addition to having a disability that has lasted, or is expected to last 12 months, you must also have worked in a job where you paid Social Security taxes long enough and recently enough, and you must not earn more than Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), which is $1,470 per month in 2023. If you don’t meet those requirements, you may be eligible for disability through another Social Security program, like Social Security Income (SSI,) or from long-term disability insurance through your employer or a privately purchased policy.
Applying for Social Security Disability benefits can be a confusing and frustrating process, even if you have an impairment that is listed in Social Security’s Blue Book. Consulting an experienced Social Security Disability attorney can save time and help you avoid mistakes.
Disability benefits are an important source of income for those who are unable to work. If you are not able to work due to accident or illness, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability or Long Term Disability benefits. If you have applied for benefits and been denied, contact the attorneys at Bemis, Roach and Reed for a free consultation. Call 512-454-4000 and get help NOW.
Author: Attorney Greg Reed has been practicing law for 29 years. He is Superlawyers rated by Thomson Reuters and is Top AV Preeminent® and Client Champion Gold rated by Martindale Hubbell. Through his extensive litigation Mr. Reed obtained board certification from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Greg is admitted to practice in the United States District Court – all Texas Districts and the United States Court of Appeals-Fifth Circuit. Mr. Reed is a member of the Travis County Bar Association, Texas Trial Lawyers Association, past Director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association, and an Associate member of the American Board of Trial Advocates. Mr. Reed and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.
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