Can I qualify for disability benefits if I am suffering from Macular Degeneration?
Author Attorney Greg Reed:
If you are suffering from Macular Degeneration you may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. The Social Security Administration has specific language and conditions related to qualifying for benefits while experiencing the effects of vision altering diseases such as Macular Degeneration.
Macular degeneration or age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a progressive eye condition that damages the macula, the portion of the retina that records the images we see and sends them via the optic nerve from the eye to the brain.
The macula focuses central vision in the eye and controls our ability to read, drive a car, recognize faces or colors, and see objects in fine detail. Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in people over 65, affecting more than 10 million Americans.
When the macula is damaged, images are not received correctly.
Changes in central vision may occur causing blurriness, distorted images or complete loss of central vision. People with very advanced macular degeneration are considered legally blind, but because the rest of the retina still works, they retain their peripheral vision, which is not as clear as central vision. Because AMD advances so slowly in some cases, a person will notice little change in their vision. In other cases, the condition progresses quickly and may lead to a loss of vision in both eyes.
There are two types of Macular Degeneration: dry and wet.
Dry AMD occurs when the light-sensitive cells in the macula break down slowly, blurring central vision in the affected eye. You may have difficulty recognizing faces and need more light for reading and other tasks. As the macula deteriorates central vision is gradually lost. Dry AMD generally affects both eyes, but vision can be lost in one eye while the other eye seems unaffected. Approximately 85% to 90% of the cases of Macular Degeneration are the “dry” (atrophic) 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 or blindness. If you have been denied disability don’t give up!
Wet AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels form under the retina.
These delicate blood vessels often leak blood and fluid causing the retina to distort or scar. As a result, damage to the macula occurs rapidly and loss of central vision can occur quickly. 15% of AMD cases are the “wet” (exudative) type.
There are three stages of AMD:
- Early AMD – Early AMD is diagnosed by the presence of medium-sized yellow deposits under the retina called drusen. There is usually no vision loss at this stage.
- Intermediate AMD – At this stage the presence of either many medium-sized drusen or one or more large drusen can be detected. Some people will see a blurred spot in the center of their vision and need more light for reading and other tasks.
- Late AMD – Vision loss is very noticeable at this stage. A breakdown of light-sensitive cells and supporting tissue in the central retinal area occurs causing a blurred spot in the center of your vision which may enlarge over time.
The specific causes of AMD are not conclusively known, but the greatest risk factor is age. The disease is most likely to occur in people 55 and older. Other risk factors include:
- Family History: People with a family history of AMD are at a higher risk.
- Skin/eye color: People with light colored skin and eyes are more likely to develop AMD.
- Gender: Women get AMD more often than men.
- Smoking: Smokers are three to four times more likely to develop AMD compared to nonsmokers.
- Nutrition: A diet low in vitamins A, C, E, lutein and zinc may be a risk factor. These nutrients are found in some fruits, nuts, and dark leafy greens.
- Obesity, High Blood Pressure, and High Cholesterol: Have all been linked to the development of advanced AMD
- Excessive Exposure to Sunlight: Excessive ultraviolet light may increase the risk for developing AMD.
There is currently no known cure for Macular Degeneration, but it is possible to reduce the risk of developing AMD and slow its progression by following some simple guidelines:
- If you smoke, quit.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes fruits, green leafy vegetables, and healthy fats, such as eggs, nuts or olive oil.
- Control your blood pressure and weight.
- Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses when outside.
- See your eye care professional regularly.
The Social Security Administration does not specifically address macular degeneration in its Bluebook of impairments, but it does discuss visual disorders in Section 2.00.
A. How do we evaluate visual disorders?
1. What are visual disorders? Visual disorders are abnormalities of the eye, the optic nerve, the optic tracts, or the brain that may cause a loss of visual acuity or visual fields. A loss of visual acuity limits your ability to distinguish detail, read, or do fine work. A loss of visual fields limits your ability to perceive visual stimuli in the peripheral extent of vision.
2. How do we define statutory blindness? Statutory blindness is blindness as defined in sections 216(i)(1) and 1614(a)(2) of the Social Security Act (Act).
a. The Act defines blindness as central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of a correcting lens. We use your best-corrected central visual acuity for distance in the better eye when we determine if this definition is met. (For visual acuity testing requirements, see 2.00A5.)
b. The Act also provides that an eye that has a visual field limitation such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees is considered as having a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less. (For visual field testing requirements, see 2.00A6.)
c. You have statutory blindness only if your visual disorder meets the criteria of 2.02 or 2.03A. You do not have statutory blindness if your visual disorder medically equals the criteria of 2.02 or 2.03A or meets or medically equals the criteria of 2.03B, 2.03C, 2.04A, or 2.04B because your disability is based on criteria other than those in the statutory definition of blindness.
3. What evidence do we need to evaluate visual disorders, including those that result in statutory blindness under title II? To evaluate your visual disorder, we usually need a report of an eye examination that includes measurements of your best-corrected central visual acuity (see 2.00A5) or the extent of your visual fields (see 2.00A6), as appropriate. If you have visual acuity or visual field loss, we need documentation of the cause of the loss. A standard eye examination will usually indicate the cause of any visual acuity loss. A standard eye examination can also indicate the cause of some types of visual field deficits. Some disorders, such as cortical visual disorders, may result in abnormalities that do not appear on a standard eye examination. If the standard eye examination does not indicate the cause of your vision loss, we will request the information used to establish the presence of your visual disorder. If your visual disorder does not satisfy the criteria in 2.02, 2.03, or 2.04, we will request a description of how your visual disorder affects your ability to function.
Macular degeneration can result in vision loss or blindness and severely limit your ability to work and perform normal tasks. If you are unable to work due to macular degeneration or any other accident or illness affecting your vision 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. We aggressively protect the rights of our clients to ensure they receive the disability assistance they deserve. Contact our Texas Social Security attorneys at 512-454-4000 to schedule your free consultation today.
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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