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Obtaining disability benefits for Multiple Sclerosis

Appealing for benefits is best done under the guidance of an experienced disability lawyer.

Can I get disability benefits if I am suffering from the effects of Multiple Sclerosis?

Author: Attorney Lonnie Roach

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates that almost one million people in the United States are living with multiple sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis can occur at any age, but in most cases onset occurs between the ages of 20 and 40, and women are more than two to three times more likely to develop the condition.
If you are suffering from the effects of Multiple Sclerosis you may qualify for disability benefits.

Multiple sclerosis is essentially an autoimmune disease; the immune system attacks the fatty protective substance called myelin that covers and protects the nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord.

This causes communication problems between the brain and the rest of the body and can eventually result in permanent damage and deterioration of the nerves. Some people lose the ability to walk while others go into remission without any new symptoms.

MS disability

If you have an advanced case of MS you have a good chance of qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits. The SSA will want to see medical evidence.

Signs and symptoms of multiple sclerosis vary widely over the course of the disease, depending on the amount of nerve damage and the location of affected nerve fibers.

Common symptoms include:

  •    Numbness or weakness in one or more limbs, usually on one side of the body at a time
  •   Fatigue
  •   Electric shock-like sensations that occur with certain neck movements, especially bending the neck forward
  •    Lack of coordination, tremors, or unsteady gait
  •   Tingling or pain in parts of body
  •   Dizziness
  •   Blurry vision
  •   Partial or complete loss of vision, typically in one eye at a time
  •   Prolonged double vision
  •   Slurred speech
  •   Incontinence

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 Multiple Sclerosis. If you have been denied disability don’t give up!

There are four types of MS.

Most people have periods known as relapses with worsening symptoms followed by quiet periods of remission where symptoms improve or disappear completely. This is known as relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS). Relapses can develop over days or weeks while periods of remission may last days or years. Fifty percent of those with relapsing-remitting MS develop a steady progression of symptoms with or without periods of remission within 10 to 20 years of their initial diagnosis. This type of MS is called secondary progressive MS (SPMS). Primary progressive MS (PPMS) is a gradual worsening of the disease; there are no well-defined attacks of symptoms, and there are few or no remissions. Progressive-relapsing MS (PRMS) is the least common form of MS. Only 5% of people have this type of MS where relapses happen every so often, but symptoms continue and get worse between attacks.

Many cases of multiple sclerosis do not progress and some individuals remain in RRMS for 30 years.

It should also be noted that most individuals with MS live an average of only seven years less than the general population. Currently there is no cure for the disease, but treatments can speed recovery from attacks, slow the progression of the condition and manage symptoms. Medications and physical therapy are the most common treatments prescribed, but some patients have found relief from alternative therapies, such as yoga, exercise, magnet therapy, massage and acupuncture.

Qualifying for Disability for Multiple Sclerosis

The Social Security Administration recognizes multiple sclerosis as a disabling condition in its Blue Book under Section 11.09.

To be eligible for SSDI under this listed impairment, your multiple sclerosis must be characterized by the following:

  1.   Disorganization of motor function in two extremities, resulting in an extreme limitation in the ability to stand up from a seated position, balance while standing or walking, or use the upper extremities.
  2. OR

  3.    Marked limitation in physical functioning and one of the following:

    1.    Understanding, remembering, or applying information; or
    2.   Interacting with others; or
    3.   Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace; or
    4.   Adapting or managing oneself.

Applicants who suffer from multiple sclerosis and who use wheelchairs, walkers, have vision problems or cannot drive will probably have no problem meeting the above requirements and be approved for SSDI.

Individuals with mild to moderate MS are usually able to work and do not need disability benefits. However, there are other people with MS who are able to work and perform their daily tasks on a good day, but on other days their symptoms are severe enough to force them to stay home. These are the individuals who have trouble getting approved for Social Security Disability benefits. If you have multiple sclerosis and your symptoms do not meet Social Security’s exact criteria, what can you do to increase your chances of qualifying for SSDI?

First, discuss all your symptoms with your health care providers and let them know how MS interferes with your daily activities – dressing, washing, working, cooking, driving, shopping.

These symptoms include any of the following:

  •    Fatigue
  •   Pain
  •   Blurred vision
  •   Numbness in hands
  •   Mental changes, such as forgetfulness, confusion or getting along with others
  •   Incontinence

Make sure these symptoms and their effects are thoroughly documented in your medical records.

In addition to a diagnosis of MS by a neurologist and a long-term record of your symptoms by a primary care physician, an MRI showing proof of demyelination and a spinal tap that shows increased myelin basic proteins will strengthen your case.

Keep a detailed record of your daily activities.

Social Security will send you a form to fill out called a function report where you can document your problems. The form will have questions, such as “Do you drive?” You do not have to answer with a yes or no; take time to explain that sometimes you can drive a short distance easily, but on other days pain, fatigue or blurred vision prevent you from going anywhere. Social Security may also request testimony from someone else about your condition, such as an employer or colleague. Ask a friend or family member to give a report about your daily activities, choosing one or two people who know you well and are familiar with your challenges.

One way to prove disability is to show you have difficulty walking.

Ask your doctor for a prescription for an assistive device, such as a cane or a walker, even if you already have one or are not able to buy one. Social Security may assume that if there is no prescription for a cane or other assistive device, the patient doesn’t need one.

If you are still working, keep track of absences.

This is important to establish that your productivity at work is declining. You must prove that your medical condition has reduced your work productivity by at least 15 % of the acceptable level. If you consistently need to stop work because of blurry vision or fatigue, or miss work several days per month, you will not be able to maintain full-time employment.

If you have any other medical conditions, such as asthma, arthritis, hearing loss, anxiety or depression, be sure to include them in your medical records because they may be key to proving that you are incapable of doing other work.

Applicants often have more than one illness or injury that prevents them from working full time. By itself one disorder may not meet the requirements of an impairment as stated in Social Security’s Blue Book, but if an applicant has multiple medical conditions, Social Security must consider how those health issues, combined together, limit an applicant’s ability to hold a job and perform necessary daily tasks. Social Security will also evaluate how your limitations affect your ability to work, taking into account whether or not you are able to drive, your age, and level of education.

Because multiple sclerosis is an episodic disease with periods of relapse and periods of remission, it can be tricky to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits.

Also, filing an application may be problematic if your symptoms interfere with writing and filling out forms. Consulting an experienced Social Security Disability attorney to review your case and take over the burdens of gathering evidence and filing your application can 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.

  1.   The Duration of Work test.   Whether you have worked long enough to be covered under SSDI.
  2.   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.

  1.   Are you working?   Your disability must be “total”.
  2.   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.
  3.   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.
  4.   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.
  5.   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.

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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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Attorney Lonnie RoachAuthor: Attorney Lonnie Roach has been practicing law for over 29 years. He is Superlawyers rated by Thomson Reuters and is Top AV Preeminent® and Client Champion rated by Martindale Hubbell. Through his extensive litigation Mr. Roach obtained board certifications 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. Highly experienced in Long Term Disability denials and appeals governed by the “ERISA” Mr. Roach is a member of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, Austin Bar Association, and is a past the director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association (Director 1999-2005) 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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