Social Security Disability Benefits for Adults with Peripheral Neuropathy
Approximately 20 million people in the United States seek help for peripheral neuropathy. The condition is a result of damage to the peripheral nerves that typically causes pain, numbness, and weakness especially in the feet and hands. One of the most common causes of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes; however, it can also be the result of infections, inherited conditions, metabolic problems, and traumatic injuries.
People with peripheral neuropathy often are in severe pain that prevents them from working. The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers two financial programs to help people suffering with peripheral neuropathy.
What are SSDI and SSD?
The SSA has two programs available for people with disabilities. SSI (Supplemental Security Income) is a program that assists low to no-income individuals who are unable to work due to a disability.
SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) has no asset limitation, but requires that you worked prior to becoming disabled. The number of years you must work prior to becoming disabled is based on your age. Younger applicants are not expected to have worked as long as an applicant who is age 60 or older.
If you meet the technical qualifications of SSDI or SSI, you will then need to meet the medical qualifications. To determine if your condition medically meets or exceeds the definition of a disability, the SSA uses a written set of guidelines referred to as the “Blue Book.”
What is the SSA’s Blue Book?
In order to assess whether a patient is disabled due to peripheral neuropathy, the claims examiner uses the information in the SSA’s Blue Book. The Blue Book contains a list of physical and mental impairments that may qualify as a disability. It contains a section for adult conditions and a section for childhood conditions.
Each physical or mental impairment listed in the Blue Book is considered to cause severe limitations that result in the patient being unable to perform any gainful activity.
Section 11.14 of the Blue Book provides the requirements patients with peripheral neuropathy must meet in order to be eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits. The patient must have “significant and persistent disorganization of motor function in two extremities, resulting in sustained disturbance of gross and dexterous movements, or gait and station” regardless of the medication prescribed to treat the condition.
The Blue Book refers to the “persistent disorganization of motor function” in Section 11.00C as “paresis or paralysis, tremor or other involuntary movements, ataxia and sensory disturbances.” The severity and degree of interference with the use of the patient’s fingers, hands, and arms and/or the interference with locomotion is considered when determining if the patient meets the SSA’s definition of disabled.
Having the Best Chance of Qualifying for Benefits
Not every applicant with peripheral neuropathy will meet the SSA’s Blue Book listing. If you are unable to work but do not medically qualify, you could still receive benefits. The most important thing you can do to improve your chance of approval would be to have your doctor fill out a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment.
An RFC is a guide that the SSA uses to determine how much work you are able to do. It will ask your doctor to list how much weight you can lift or pull, how long you are able to stand or walk, and how your hand movements are limited. A form like this is invaluable for someone with peripheral neuropathy because there are numerous sections of the RFC that discuss limitations of hands or general movement if your neuropathy affect your feet. You can download the RFC for your doctor here.
Other than the RFC, you should gather as much medical evidence as possible to send in to the SSA. Important documents include:
- History of all medical exams
- Vibration and monofilament test results
- Blood tests
- Nerve conduction studies and electromyography
- Skin biopsies
- Results of a quantitative sudomotor axon fiber neuropathy (QSART)
- History of all medication taken or treatments used for your neuropathy
Not every exam listed will be relevant for your application, but you should have as much medical evidence available as possible. You can either mail along your evidence with your application, or you can sign a release that allows the SSA to gather your medical evidence for you. The latter option is easier, but it runs the chance of slowing down your claim.
How Do I Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits?
You can contact the Social Security Administration by calling 1-800-772-1213 or you can visit your local Social Security office. The average application will be either approved or denied in five months. If you are denied after applying with neuropathy, there is a thorough appeals process available.
Deanna Power is the Community Outreach Manager at Social Security Disability Help, a website dedicated to helping Social Security disability applicants receive benefits. For any additional information on this article or the application process in general, she can be contacted at [email protected].