The primary challenge to obtaining Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits is proving to the Social Security Administration (SSA) that you suffer from a qualifying disability. This can be difficult when one suffers from a mental health condition or physical illness that is not readily apparent to others.
Millions of Americans suffer from these “invisible” disabilities, according to a recent report by National Public Radio.
“Their conditions may range from lupus to bipolar disorder or diabetes. The severity of each person’s condition varies, and the fear of stigma means that people often prefer not to talk about their illnesses,” the NPR report states.
The NPR report focuses on the employment discrimination that people with invisible disabilities face. In particular, they may not receive the accommodations required to enable them to perform their job as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
As a law firm that assists individuals in Orlando, Winter Park and throughout Florida with seeking SSD benefits, we have seen how a misunderstanding of invisible disabilities can also harm those who are so badly ill or injured that they can no longer work for a living.
How One Qualifies for Social Security Disability Benefits
To be awarded SSD benefits, the SSA must determine that the applicant’s condition interferes with the “basic work-related activities” of the applicant’s current job as well as other available jobs the applicant is qualified to perform.
Once the SSA determines that the applicant’s condition interferes with his or her ability to work, the examiner tries to match it to a list of medical conditions that are so severe that it automatically means the applicant is disabled.
If a direct match is not possible, the SSA must decide whether the applicant’s condition is of equal severity to a medical condition on the list. If it is, the examiner should rule that the applicant is disabled.
Many so-called “invisible” disabilities are on the SSD “Blue Book” list of medical conditions. Many others are not, but a person with the disability may still qualify because of its equal severity to a listed disability.
- Anxiety disorders – People with anxiety disorders suffer from irrational fears that are excessive. However, they may exhibit different symptoms. The SSA requires that the disorder be medically diagnosed and either result in complete inability to function independently outside of the applicant’s home or at least two of the following:
- Marked restriction of activities of daily living
- Marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning
- Marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace
- Repeated breakdowns of extended duration.
- Chronic pain – We all experience physical pain individually. However, one person’s tolerance or level of pain cannot be easily explained to another. Among the qualifying incidents of chronic pain accepted by the SSA as a disability is chronic pain that accompanies “major dysfunction of a joint.” Repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) caused by overuse or strain such as carpal tunnel syndrome may also cause chronic pain due to wear and tear on a person’s nerves, tendons or circulatory system. An RSI may also qualify for SSD benefits.
- Depression – Among the symptoms of clinical or major depression are impaired concentration and/or indecisiveness. It can impact a person’s ability to perform many jobs. The SSA refers to affective disorders as “characterized by a disturbance of mood, accompanied by a full or partial manic or depressive syndrome.” To qualify as disabled, the applicant must document a history of symptoms and how the illness has affected his or her ability to function.
- Inflammatory bowel disease – The SSA recognizes inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) as a disability if it is documented by endoscopy, biopsy, imaging or surgical findings and when certain results are also documented. These results include a “clinically documented tender abdominal mass,” causing abdominal pain or cramping, which is not completely controlled by a prescribed narcotic medication or involuntary weight loss of at least 10 percent. Crohn’s Disease is a type of IBD in which portions of a person’s digestive system become swollen and develop painful ulcers.
- Narcolepsy – This is a neurological condition characterized by sudden drowsiness or falling asleep – often at inappropriate times and places. Sleep may occur without warning and may be physically irresistible, regardless of having had a full night’s sleep prior to the day. Narcolepsy is not among the neurological conditions in the SSA’s Blue Book. However, medical reports and other documentation may be used to show that it is comparable to nonconvulsive epilepsy. The SSA considers epilepsy disabling if it is accompanied by other issues, including the “alteration of awareness or loss of consciousness … or significant interference with activity during the day.”
An Attorney Can Help You Seek SSD Benefits for an ‘Invisible’ Disability
Some disabilities are automatically confirmed once medical documentation is presented. Others may require convincing an SSA examiner through presentation of medical records, doctors’ statements and other evidence. It may also require a persuasive presentation at a hearing.
Our firm helps SSD benefits applicants to seek the benefits they deserve – often after an initial application is denied. In cases of an “invisible” disability being misunderstood, we can help you to compile the evidence necessary to support your benefits claim. To learn more, simply call or contact us online today.