Huntington’s Disease and Qualifying for Disability Benefits
Can I get disability benefits if I am suffering from the effects of Huntington’s disease?
Author: Attorney Greg Reed
Huntington’s disease is a relatively rare hereditary disease, affecting approximately one in every 10,000 people. The disorder is the result of a faulty gene that causes progressive damage to nerve cells in the brain, broadly impacting a person’s physical and cognitive abilities.
Though the symptoms of Huntington’s disease can appear at any age, the first signs of the disorder usually become apparent in people between the ages of 30 and 50 and worsen over the following 10 – 20 years.
Ten percent of cases begin before age 20 and are known as juvenile Huntington’s disease or JHD.
In a healthy person, a normal gene produces a protein called huntington.
If this gene is defective, it will produce excessive amounts of cytosine, adenine, guanine, the building blocks of DNA, and cause an accumulation of toxins damaging brain cells. A person who has the gene has one good copy and one bad copy; only one copy of a faulty gene from either the mother or father will result in Huntington’s disease. Any child can inherit the good copy or the faulty one, so each child has a 50% chance of inheriting the disease and their children have a 50% chance of inheriting the disease, affecting several generations.
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 Huntington’s Disease. If you have been denied disability don’t give up!
Early symptoms include clumsiness, mood swings, and unusual behavior progressing to difficulty walking, swallowing and talking in later stages.
Which symptoms appear first vary from person to person, but may be any of the following:
- Stumbling or dropping things
- Clumsiness and poor coordination
- Uncontrollable movements
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mood changes
- Short-term memory problems
- Depression and irritability
As the disease progresses, an individual will experience more physical, cognitive and emotional changes.
- Difficulty speaking, slurring words, or forgetting words
- Involuntary movements in arms, legs, body, face and hands
- Difficulty swallowing and eating
- Weight loss
- Difficulty concentrating
- Slow processing of thoughts and difficulty learning
- Emotional outbursts
- Social withdrawal
- Suicidal thoughts
Diagnosis of Huntington’s disease involves a general physical exam, a review of family medical history, and neurological and psychiatric exams.
A doctor may also order imaging tests that could reveal structural changes in particular sites of the brain affected by Huntington’s disease. Additionally, a patient may decide to pursue genetic testing, especially if they are planning a family.
There is no treatment to stop, slow, or reverse the progress of Huntington’s disease.
Treatment includes medications and various therapies to alleviate physical, emotional and cognitive symptoms.
- Physical therapy can help maintain mobility and reduce the risk of falling
- Psychotherapy can help manage behavior problems
- Speech therapy can improve the ability to speak and use communication devices
- Occupational therapy can improve functional abilities and teach a person how to use assistive devices such as handrails and eating and drinking utensils.
Eventually, the person with Huntington’s disease will not be able to walk or speak and require full nursing care, though they will usually understand what is being said and be aware of friends, family and other people around them.
Huntington’s disease is listed as an impairment in Social Security’s Blue Book under Section 11.17 neurodegenerative disorders of the central nervous system, which includes Huntington’s disease, Friedreich’s ataxia, and spinocerebellar degeneration.
In order to meet the requirements of this listing, you must be able to prove you are experiencing one of the following limitations:
Disorganization of motor function in two extremities; for example, an arm and a leg or two arms or two legs, limiting the ability to stand up from a seated position, balance while standing or walking, or use the upper extremities.
Marked physical limitation and one of the following:
- Understanding, remembering, or applying information; or
- Interacting with others; or
- Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace; or
- Adapting or managing oneself (Ability to plan independently, be aware of normal hazards)
If your physical limitations are not severe, Social Security will evaluate your condition under the mental listing for neurocognitive disorders.
In this situation, at least one of the following difficulties must be significantly worse than before:
- Decreased coordination, such as walking or eye-hand coordination
- Memory and learning problems
- Difficulty focusing on tasks or paying attention to others
- Difficulty planning or using judgment
- Problems speaking and using language, grammar and vocabulary
- Inability to use proper social behavior.
If your Huntington’s has not progressed to the point where you meet these criteria, you may still be eligible to receive SSD benefits.
Again, you must prove through medical evidence exactly how your condition is affecting your ability to work and function. Your doctor can complete a particular evaluation that will show you are unable to work and function as you once did because of your condition.
Because Huntington’s disease can result in serious disability and death, it is among the conditions that are part of Social Security’s Compassionate Allowances program (CAL).
Under this program, applications for Social Security Disability benefits are handled on an expedited basis and benefits are approved in as quickly as possible in order to help those who need them most. Determinations made under CAL typically take one to two months. In order to qualify, an applicant must meet the listing requirements for neurodegenerative disease or the listing for neurocognitive diseases. You must provide complete medical records documenting a family history of Huntington’s disease, reports evidencing all motor, cognitive and psychiatric symptoms, and laboratory tests showing a CAG repeat expansion in the HD gene.
If you have Huntington’s disease and it has impacted your ability to work, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Income.
It can be exhausting and sometimes impossible to cope with a disabling medical condition while applying for SSD benefits.
Often, individuals will try to apply for benefits, but are denied even when they have been diagnosed with a disabling condition. This is why it is important to hire an experienced SSD lawyer who understands how the system works.
The lawyers at Bemis, Roach & Reed have over two decades of experience representing Texans with Huntington’s Disease and other disabling medical and mental conditions.
Our attorneys are dedicated to ensuring that you receive the benefits you are entitled to. If you want to apply for SSD benefits, call us today. If you have previously applied for benefits but were denied, we can help you appeal that decision. Contact us today for a free initial consultation.
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 Lonnie Roach 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. Because of his extensive litigation experience Mr. Roach is board certified from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Lonnie is admitted to practice in the United States District Court - all Texas Districts and the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. Mr. Roach is a member of the Texas trial lawyers association, has been active in the Austin Bar Association and is a past Director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association. Mr. Roach and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.
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