Macular Degeneration and qualifying for Disability Benefits
Can I get Disability Benefits if I am suffering from the effects of Macular Degeneration?
Author: Attorney Greg Reed
Approximately 11 million people in the United States have some form of macular degeneration. Also known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), it is the leading cause of vision loss in people over age 60. Stargardt disease, or juvenile macular degeneration, affects children and young adults. Although macular degeneration doesn’t cause blindness, it can result in severe vision impairment.
If you are suffering from the effects of macular degeneration you may qualify for disability benefits.
Macular degeneration is an eye disease that may worsen over time.
The macular, the small central portion of the retina, focuses central vision in the eye and controls the ability to read, recognize faces and colors, and see objects in fine detail. When the macula is damaged, images sent via the optic nerve from the eye to the brain are not received correctly. These changes in central vision may cause blurriness, distorted images or complete loss of central vision. Though people with very advanced macular degeneration are considered legally blind, they retain their peripheral vision which is not as clear as central vision. If macular degeneration progresses slowly, an individual may notice little change in their vision.
There are two types of macular degeneration:
Dry macular degeneration.
This type of AMD is characterized by yellow deposits in the macula called drusen. These small particles do not affect vision, but as they enlarge and become more numerous they can distort vision; a person may have difficulty recognizing faces and need more light for reading. Central vision is gradually lost as the macula deteriorates. This type of AMD typically affects both eyes, but vision may be lost in one eye while the other eye seems unaffected. Most cases of macular degeneration are the dry type.
Contact a Social Security disability attorney at 512-454-4000 for a free consultation and see if you can get disability benefits while suffering from Macular Degeneration. If you have been denied disability don’t give up!
Wet macular degeneration.
This type of AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow underneath the macula and leak blood and fluid into the retina. Vision becomes distorted; straight lines appear wavy and a person may experience blind spots and loss of central vision. In contrast to dry macular degeneration, damage to the macula in wet AMD occurs rapidly.
Usually, symptoms of macular degeneration develop gradually.
If only one eye is affected, a person may not notice any problems in their vision because their good eye compensates for the weak eye. The most common symptoms include:
- Decreased central vision in one or both eyes;
- Needing brighter light to read or do close-up work;
- Difficulty adjusting to low light; for example, when entering a dimly lit room;
- Visual distortion; seeing straight lines as bent;
- Trouble recognizing faces;
- Blurriness of printed words;
- Blind spots in field of vision.
Though the causes of macular degeneration are not specifically known, researchers believe a combination of environmental and hereditary factors contribute to the condition.
As the eye ages, the tissue in the macula thins and loses cells responsible for vision. While the greatest risk factor is age, other risk factors include:
- A family history of macular degeneration.
- Gender – women are more likely to be affected by AMD.
- People who have light eyes and skin are more likely to develop AMD.
- Excessive exposure to ultraviolet light.
- Poor nutrition and a diet low in vitamins A, C. E, lutein and zinc.
- High blood pressure, obesity and high cholesterol.
There is no cure for macular degeneration at this time, but following some simple guidelines can reduce the risk of developing the condition and slow its progression:
- Don’t smoke.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Watch your weight and blood pressure.
- Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.
- Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and includes fish.
- Take recommended vitamins and supplements.
- Keep regular appointments with an eye doctor.
Qualifying for Disability for Macular Degeneration
People with macular degeneration rarely lose all their vision, but the condition can be severe enough to impact an individual’s ability to read, recognize faces or make out details.
However, a diagnosis of macular degeneration will not automatically qualify for Social Security Disability Income. The Social Security Administration grants disability benefits based on how poor an applicant’s vision is and how it limits their abilities. You must be able to show that your macular degeneration is so severe that you cannot work at any job.
While there is no specific impairment listing for macular degeneration in Social Security’s Blue Book, there are two ways Social Security may approve you for disability benefits: 1) if your symptoms from macular degeneration meet the criteria of another vision-related impairment listing, or 2) through a medical and vocational allowance.
Social Security lists three impairments where you may qualify for SSDI with vision loss.
- Loss of Central Visual Acuity (Section 2.02). Central visual acuity is how clearly a person is able to see straight ahead. To qualify, the vision in your better eye must be 20/200 or worse with glasses or contacts. If one eye is worse than 20/200 and one eye is better than 20/200, you will not qualify.
- Contraction of the visual fields in the better (Section 2.03). Your visual field is the total space you can see, including your peripheral vision. If your total visual field is below certain levels in your better eye, you may qualify for SSDI.
- Loss of visual efficiency (Section 2.04). Visual efficiency refers to a combination of your peripheral vision and your central visual acuity. If you have poor peripheral vision and poor visual acuity, you may qualify under this listing.
If you don’t meet the criteria of any of the above listings, Social Security will consider the impact of your vision loss and any other symptoms you may have on your ability to work and perform daily tasks.
Social Security will conduct a Residual Functioning Capacity assessment (RFC) to evaluate what capabilities you have given your vision loss and what jobs you are able to do taking into account whether or not you are able to drive, your age, and level of education. An RFC may conclude that because of your vision loss you are unable to work near hazardous machinery, that you cannot work at unprotected heights and/or you are unable to drive. It is also helpful to enlist the support of your doctor. Let them know you are applying for disability benefits and ask them to fill out an RFC form.
Additionally, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits if you have another impairment.
Individuals with macular degeneration often suffer from other conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity and hallucinations. One disorder by itself may not meet the requirements of an impairment as stated in Social Security’s Blue Book, but if you have multiple medical conditions, Social Security must consider how those health issues, combined together, limit your ability to hold a job and perform necessary daily tasks.
Social Security will expect to see detailed evidence supporting your claim. These records should include:
- Contact information for all your medical providers and employers;
- Complete medical records with treatment plans;
- Exam notes from an ophthalmologist or optometrist;
- Results of a visual acuity test and a peripheral vision test;
- Dates of medical appointments;
- Work history;
- Educational background.
Many people with macular degeneration lead normal lives, but advanced macular degeneration can lead to irreversible visual impairment.
If you have macular degeneration and it has impacted your ability to work, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Income, but getting approved for disability benefits can be a difficult and frustrating process if you suffer from vision loss. Consulting an experienced Social Security disability attorney to review your case and take over the burdens of gathering evidence and filing your application may prevent costly mistakes and increase your chances for approval.
In order to qualify for Social Security Disability, you will need to satisfy a few specific requirements in two categories as determined by the Social Security Administration.
The first category is the Work Requirements which has two tests.
- The Duration of Work test. Whether you have worked long enough to be covered under SSDI.
- The Current Work Test. Whether you worked recently enough for the work to actually count toward coverage.
The second category is the Medical Eligibility Requirement.
- Are you working? Your disability must be “total”.
- Is your medical condition severe? Your disability must be “severe” enough to interfere with your ability to perform basic work-related activities, such as walking, sitting, and remembering.
- Is your medical condition on the List of Impairments? The SSA has a “List of Impairments” that automatically qualify as “severe” disabilities. If your disease is not listed this does not mean you cannot get disability, it means you must prove you cannot maintain employment due to your limitations.
- Can you do the work you did before? SSDI rules look at whether your medical condition prevents you from doing the work you did prior to developing the condition.
- Can you do any other type of work? If you cannot do your prior work, an evaluation is made as to whether you can perform any other kind of work.
More details can be found on our Qualifying for Disability page.
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.
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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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