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Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis May Qualify You for Social Security Disability Benefits

Doctor Symptoms ChartMultiple sclerosis—an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system—attacks the myelin, or fatty substance, surrounding nerve fibers. While some people suffer symptoms that come and go, for other individuals, the disease is progressive and disabling.

Damage to the myelin and encased nerve fibers lead to disruption of nerve signals from the brain to the body, and this disruption can cause physical and mental impairment. Therefore, if you can’t work because of your MS symptoms, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

Qualifying Criteria

For an individual with multiple sclerosis to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, he or she must receive a diagnosis of MS based on symptoms. There must be a documented history of these symptoms by a treating source.

Muscle weakness and motor fatigue upon repetitive activity—which are symptoms frequently reported by individuals with MS—noted during a physical examination may be considered along with other qualifying criteria.

Supporting Medical Evidence

To diagnose MS, doctors rely on symptoms, neurological examination, and a combination of diagnostic tests such as imaging studies, lab tests, and nerve function tests to see what changes the disease has caused in the brain and spinal cord.

Examples of medical evidence you should submit with your disability application include clinic notes describing your symptoms as recorded by licensed health care providers. Notes should include how you’ve responded to drug and other therapies, including medications to treat the symptoms and any physical therapy.

A doctor’s notes documenting your functional limitations and prognosis as it relates to your level of disability can help you prove your case, if supported by abnormal results in CT scans of the brain and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) of the brain or spine.

If you have MS and can provide medical documentation that you can’t control two or more of your limbs and thus have trouble balancing when you walk or stand, you may also qualify for Social Security disability benefits. You also may qualify if you can prove that you have physical limitations in addition to severe limitations in your ability to concentrate, think, or interact socially.

Substantial Gainful Activity

If your symptoms don’t fully meet the criteria established by the Social Security Administration (SSA), you still may qualify for benefits, providing you can prove that you are unable to maintain substantial gainful activity (SGA-what most of us just call work!).

If you go this route, you must show that you fail to meet Social Security’s medical-vocational criteria, which includes factors such as your work experience, education, employment skills, and age.

Your age can make a difference, since older individuals have different criteria for approval. The SSA believes that in some cases, it may not make sense to retrain a disabled person with no transferable job skills and who is approaching retirement age. The disabilities that MS imposes may prevent you from doing your previous job as well as make learning new skills difficult, especially if you are older.

However, regardless of your age, the SSA will consider your exertional level of functioning—ranging from sedentary to heavy—in determining what kind of work you still may be able to do on a regular basis. Because the nature and severity of your symptoms play a significant role in this determination, you need to have medical records to support your claim that MS prevents you from engaging in work.

Potential Stumbling Blocks

Even though exacerbations and relapses can be debilitating, individuals for whom MS is episodic in nature can experience periods of remission during which they have few or even no symptoms. These periods of remission make it difficult for such individuals to qualify for disability because the SSA requires a disability to last for at least a year.

The length and severity of MS episodes vary, and these changing factors make it difficult for many people with MS to prove permanent disability. However, the SSA takes into account how often relapses occur, how long they last, and how much time you have between relapses and remissions. The Administration also will note whether the disease leads to permanent physical or mental impairments even during the times when no other MS symptoms are present.

If you have increased loss of function due to multiple sclerosis and need help with the disability application process, Glen Cook, Social Security Attorney, can help you file your claim and prove your case. Contact our firm today.