Can Peripheral Neuropathy qualify me for Disability Benefits?
Can I get disability benefits if I am suffering from the effects of Peripheral Neuropathy?
Author: Attorney Greg Reed
More than 20 million people in the United States have some form of peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is very common and affects people of all ages, though the majority are over the age of 55. Often misdiagnosed, peripheral neuropathy can be painful and debilitating, impacting every aspect of a person’s life. If you are suffering from the effects of peripheral neuropathy you may qualify for disability benefits.
What is peripheral neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy occurs when the motor and sensory nerves connecting the brain and spinal cord to other parts of the body are damaged, resulting in numbness, pain, muscle weakness, tingling, and abnormal sensations in the hands, feet, arms and legs.
Muscle atrophy (decrease in muscle mass), decreased reflexes, and paralysis may also occur. Peripheral neuropathy is identified according to the type of nerve damaged and includes a variety of conditions, among them carpal tunnel syndrome and Guillain Barre Syndrome. In some cases, symptoms appear suddenly, progress rapidly and resolve slowly, while in chronic cases, symptoms begin slowly, progress slowly and worsen over time.
Common symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include:
- Sharp, burning, or throbbing pain
- Loss of feeling in hands or feet
- Muscle weakness
- Difficulty walking or moving arms and legs
- Loss of coordination; falling
- Low blood pressure
Diabetes mellitus and post herpetic neuralgia (or Shingles) are the most common causes of peripheral neuropathy, but other causes include:
- Trauma and nerve entrapment (as in carpal tunnel syndrome)
- Autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis and Guillain-Barre Syndrome
- Infections such as Lyme disease
- Vitamin deficiency, particularly vitamin B12 and folate
- Environmental factors such as exposure to toxins and pesticides
- Certain cancers, chemotherapy, and radiation
- Medications, such as anti-seizure medications
- Other medical conditions such as kidney and liver disease
If you are suffering from Peripheral Neuropathy 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.
Though uncommon, peripheral neuropathy can also be hereditary, or there may be no known cause.
Some cases of peripheral neuropathy are easily treated and cured, but damage to the nerves can affect a wide range of functions. Treatment depends on the cause and nerves affected and focuses on managing symptoms and controlling nerve damage. Common prescribed treatments include medications to control pain, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and aids such as braces or orthopedic shoes.
How do I qualify for Social Security Disability Income?
The symptoms of peripheral neuropathy vary from person to person and not every applicant will be approved for Social Security Disability benefits. The Social Security Administration recognizes peripheral neuropathy as an impairment under Section 11.14.
To meet the criteria outlined in this listing, you must prove the following:
- You have so much difficulty moving two of your extremities (an arm and a leg or two arms or two legs) that you are extremely limited in balancing while walking or standing, standing up from a seated position, or using your arms.
- You have “marked” physical problems along with a “marked” limitation in one of the following:
- Understanding, remembering, or applying information)
- Interacting with others
- Concentration, persistence, or speed, or
- Taking care of yourself (being aware of hazards, adapting to change, or responding to demands).
“Marked” means worse than moderate, but less than extreme.
Note that the first criteria above requires extreme physical limitations, while the second list of criteria requires less-than-extreme limitations, which is why the second set also requires severe limitations in thinking, stamina, or social functioning.
You will need to provide complete medical records to Social Security as evidence of peripheral neuropathy, including visits to your doctor, your doctor’s treatment notes, and results of any diagnostic tests you’ve had.
Social Security will expect to see results from the following tests:
- Electromyography (EMG) – a test that measures electrical activity of a muscle.
- Nerve conduction velocity (NCV) studies – records electrical activity through your muscles.
- Blood tests to detect vitamin deficiencies.
- Quantitative sensory testing (QST) – measures damage to nerve endings.
- Autonomic testing – measures blood pressure and heart rate.
- Imaging studies, such as MRIs or CT scans.
- Nerve biopsy to check abnormalities in nerves.
Make sure all tests are up to date to reflect your current diagnosis; Social Security prefers records from the last six months.
Social Security will also want to know what treatments you have tried and your responses. For example, assistive devices like walkers or canes, hand or foot braces and orthopedic shoes, medications and physical therapy are all common treatments prescribed for peripheral neuropathy. If you aren’t being treated regularly, Social Security won’t be able to determine if you would still be disabled with treatment. Finally, ask your doctor to fill out an RFC (Residual Functional Capacity) form evaluating your limitations in lifting, reaching, standing up, sitting down and walking. Social Security gives considerable weight to a treating doctor’s opinion.
What if my disability doesn’t meet the requirements of Social Security’s listing?
If your disability doesn’t meet Social Security’s listing requirements for peripheral neuropathy, you may still be eligible for disability benefits if you can show that your medical condition has reduced your functional capacity to such an extent that you can no longer do your job.
Social Security will review your medical records and doctor’s opinion and conduct its own residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment to determine if you can perform your last job or any job, taking into account whether you are able to drive, your age, and level of education. The lower your RFC score, the more likely you will be approved for benefits. Social Security may determine that you can’t do your old job and may not expect you to learn a new job. Social Security follows a set of medical-vocational grid rules to determine when the agency expects an applicant to learn a new job. Applicants older than 50 or 55 often fall under a grid rule, which means they don’t have to learn a new job. If you’re unable to work at your old job or learn a new job, Social Security will likely grant you disability benefits.
You may also qualify for SSDI if you have another medical condition.
Applicants with peripheral neuropathy often suffer from other disorders like diabetes. While one disorder may not meet the requirements of a Social Security impairment listing, if you have more than one medical condition, Social Security must consider how your health issues combined together limit your ability to hold a job and perform routine tasks.
What are the basic financial requirements for SSDI?
Even if you meet all the criteria for peripheral neuropathy, you won’t be approved for SSDI unless you satisfy Social Security’s basic financial requirements.
In addition to having a disability that has lasted, or is expected to last, 12 months, you must have worked long enough and recently enough in a job where you paid Social Security taxes to accumulate a certain amount of work credits. Also, your income must not be more than Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), which in 2022 is $1,350 per month for nonblind applicants and $2,260 per month for blind applicants.
How do I file for Social Security Disability benefits?
You can apply for Social Security Disability benefits online, over the phone, or in person at your local Social Security Administration office.
If your application is denied, don’t be discouraged; most initial applications are and you will have an opportunity to appeal. There are four steps to the appeal process:
- File a Request for Reconsideration with the Social Security Administration to completely review your case again.
- If your request for hearing is denied, you can request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). ALJs are attorneys who work for Social Security who review SSDI cases and either uphold or overturn decisions to deny SSDI benefits. If you are not represented by an attorney, you should obtain legal counsel at this critical point to raise your chances for success.
- If an AJ denies your claim, you can request that the Appeals Council review your case.
- Federal Court review. The final step in the appeal process is filing suit in U.S. District Court.
What if I don’t qualify for SSDI?
If you haven’t worked long enough to accumulate enough work credits, you may be eligible for disability benefits through Social Security Income (SSI).
SSI is a program that pays monthly benefits to people with limited income and resources who are disabled, blind, or age 65 or older. SSI is based on income instead of work credits and is financed by general funds of the U.S. Treasury.
I have long-term disability insurance – should I file a claim?
Long-term disability insurance (LTD) is coverage to protect your income if you are unable to work due to illness or injury and is purchased as part of a group employment plan or privately through an insurance company.
Policies pay between 50-60% of your salary and benefits continue until you return to work, or for the number of years stated in the policy. If you have long-term disability insurance, you should file a claim right away. LTD coverage is good only as long as you are still employed. Do not quit your job before you file a claim and be sure to check the policy’s definition of “disabled” as each policy will state the definition of “disabled” which is in use. Be aware that some LTD companies can require claimants to apply for SSDI also, and it’s possible to receive both long-term disability insurance benefits and SSDI concurrently.
Do I need a disability attorney?
If you have peripheral neuropathy and it has prevented you from working, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.
However, applying for Social Security Disability benefits can be a long, complicated process. An experienced Social Security disability attorney can gather all your medical records and file your initial application, avoiding delays and costly mistakes. At the request for reconsideration and hearing levels, an attorney can collect and submit relevant medical evidence, obtain doctors’ opinions, draft a brief to the ALJ, and prepare you for questioning by the judge. An attorney can also elicit helpful testimony from you and cross-examine vocational and medical experts, demonstrating your inability to work. At the Appeals Council and federal court level, a lawyer can present legal arguments to show your case was wrongfully denied. If your application is denied, your chances of approval are significantly increased if you have legal representation. The most you will pay is 25% of disability backpay you are owed because fees charged by disability attorneys are regulated by federal law. There are no out-of-pocket costs – if you don’t win your case, you won’t be charged anything.
There are big differences in how Social Security claims and LTD claims are processed and how “disability” is defined.
LTD companies are not impartial, unlike the federal government in Social Security disability cases. Hiring an experienced LTD attorney who knows the laws and regulations as well as the insurance companies and their policies will help you avoid serious mistakes and possibly losing your claim. In addition to filing your claim in a timely manner, an LTD attorney can negotiate a settlement or file an appeal for you. Most LTD attorneys handle cases on a contingency basis and charge approximately 25%-40% of a claimant’s past due benefits.
An LTD Claim:
A Fort Worth client’s physician certified that she suffered from “constant neuropathic pain.”
The same physician also certified that her condition would impair her for the remainder for her life, that she had regressed, and that he never anticipated a fundamental or marked change in her condition. The doctor did not anticipate that the client would ever be able to return to work. These conclusions were supported by two other physicians, but The Standard chose to deny her claim. We were able to get her a lump sum settlement.
At The Texas Disability law firm Bemis Roach & Reed, our attorneys are committed to helping injured or disabled clients receive the benefits they deserve. Mr. Roach is AV Preeminent and SuperLawyers rated and has become a recognized leader in the field of Long Term Disability law. Mr Bemis focuses his practice on Social Security disability while Mr Reed handles both LTD and SSDI claims. Both are AV Preeminent and SuperLawyers rated and all our attorneys have been successfully helping people fight for their rights against big insurance companies and the government since 1993. If you have applied for benefits and been denied call 512-454-4000 for a free consultation 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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