Neuropathy and Social Security Disability

Neuropathy, also known as Peripheral Neuropathy, is a varied, but debilitating condition that affects an individual’s nervous system, causing pain, trouble with movement, and more. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), at least 20 million Americans are suffering from a type of the disease.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers financial benefits for those struggling to work due to a disabling disease. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with neuropathy, the SSA may be able to help you.

The Financial Costs of Neuropathy

The most common type of neuropathy is caused by diabetes, diabetic peripheral neuropathy (DPN), and the American Pain Society explained that treatment costs incur $4,000 extra per year on average for those that suffer from DPN. Though, the C&S Patient Education Foundations reported that DPN and other forms of painful neuropathic disorder (PND) can cost up to $17,000 per year.

The expenses ultimately depend on the severity of the disease. Neuropathy Action explained that DPN is the leading cause of non-traumatic lower limb amputations with 54,000 each year. About half of those suffering from diabetes are also diagnosed with DPN. The America Pain Society also noted that with increasing numbers of obesity, diabetes, and shingles, the numbers of PND are rising as well.

There is no cure for peripheral neuropathy, but it can be managed by prescribed treatment and keeping generally healthy habits, such as eating well, exercising regularly, and avoiding toxins. However, even when managed, neuropathy can still significantly disturb your movements and cause pain.

All of the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy affects sufferers’ ability to work, including numbness, loss of movement, pain, tingling, sensitivity to touch, loss of balance or coordination, dizziness or fainting, hyperglycemia unawareness, and amputation. It predominately affects older adults, though younger adults can be diagnosed with the disease.

For many with peripheral neuropathy, treatment isn’t enough to alleviate the condition and their quality of life and ability to perform daily activities is also affected. Because peripheral neuropathy is so severe, the SSA recognizes it as a disabling condition, and awards disability benefits is available for severe cases of the disease.

Medically Qualifying for Benefits with the Blue Book

Whenever the SSA receives an application for disability benefits, it uses the Blue Book to determine if the applicant medically qualifies for benefits. The Blue Book is the official listing of impairments eligible for benefits.

Neuropathy can be found under section 11.00—Neurological.

In order to qualify for benefits per the Blue Book, you need medical proof that your neuropathy considerably affects your motor function despite attempts to treat it. It must cause severe and constant interference of movement in two or more extremities that restricts your large, overarching movements, fine motor skills, or ability to walk.

Though the SSA’s assessment depends on the severity of the interference with movement, the peripheral nerve dysfunction or other forms of neuropathy caused by damage to the cerebral, cerebellar, brain stem, or spinal cord is often enough for approval for disability benefits.

There are three types of nerves affected by neuropathy: autonomic, motor, and sensory. You may have one or a combination of types that cause different symptoms throughout your body, such as high blood pressure or sexual dysfunction. If you have other symptoms not described in section 11.00 or if caused by diabetes, as described in section 9.00, you should include those on your application as well.

If you find that your neuropathy hinders your ability to perform daily tasks or a full day of work, talk to your doctor to see if you qualify for benefits.

Qualifying Without Meeting a Medical Listing

If your neuropathy doesn’t meet the SSA’s Blue Book listing, but you find you can’t support yourself, there is another way you can be approved for benefits. The SSA will also consider your Residual Functioning Capacity (RFC), which is the SSA’s measure of your physical ability to perform substantial gainful activity, which, in 2015, is considered to be work that earns $1,090 per month or more.

RFC approvals happen more often than Blue Book approvals because they are based on the workplace limitations caused by your conditions. If you’re applying for disability under an RFC, as with all disability applications, your doctor needs to expect you to be unable to work for at least 12 months.

The SSA will evaluate the severity of your condition and look at your symptoms to classify the level of work they think you can do—sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and very heavy. For the sedentary, light, and medium categories, the SSA has created rules, called grid rules, that examine your work history, age, education level, and skills to evaluate the jobs, if any, that are available in your work level.

Though the grid rules were designed for applicants 49 years and older, those over 45 may also be eligible. The SSA will often consider you disabled if you’re applying with non-exertional limitations or arguing you can’t even do sedentary work, even if you’re younger than 45. Because neuropathy is a very debilitating condition that causes problems walking, standing, sitting, lifting objects, involuntary movements, and more, the type of work an individual may be able to do is limited, and you may be able to argue that you can’t do sedentary work, especially if you’ve never done sedentary or light work before.

Those who didn’t attend college or have only had physically demanding jobs, jobs with a lot of standing or movement, such as manual labor, construction, service, retail, or nursing would have a higher chance of approval than a person who worked less physical jobs. However, because the symptoms are so widespread, even those with sedentary experience are often approved for benefits.

How to Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits

If your neuropathy is severe, talk to your doctor about your chances of qualifying for disability benefits through either the Blue Book or through an RFC. The application process can take up to two years, so if approval isn’t likely, it may not be worth the time, effort, and stress to apply.

When you do apply, you need to submit all of the necessary medical information with your initial claim to get a decision as quickly as possible. If you meet the SSA listing, you may be approved in the initial claim stage. However, missing evidence or unanswered questions may force the SSA to deny you or take more time to compile the evidence themselves.

Important medical evidence may include the following to test the speed of nerve impulses, electrical response, and activity, and for underlying causes:

  • Results from nerve conduction velocity studies (NCV)
  • Results from a electromyography (EMG)
  • Results from a electroencephalography (EEG)
  • Results from a spinal tap
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Results from imaging tests, such as a CAT or MRI scan.
  • Records of all hospitalizations and doctor’s visits due to your neuropathy for at least one year
  • History, length, and outcomes of all prescribed treatments
  • Detailed reports from your primary care doctor describing the severity of the neuropathy and you physical limitations

You can apply for disability benefits online or in your local SSA office. Either way, make sure you have all of the documents you need, including medical information, tax information, a birth certificate and more. A full list of materials needed for the application can be found on the SSA’s website. If you leave anything out or make any mistakes on the application, it could cause a delay or denial of benefits, so check over your application before you submit it.

If there are any changes in your condition or you have new tests, doctor’s visits, ER visits you must inform the SSA as soon as possible, so they can include it when considering your application. The more evidence you can provide about your limitations due to neuropathy, the higher your chance of being approved.

If you’re approved for benefits, your spouse and children may also be eligible for benefits. To learn more about the different forms about disability benefits, visit our pages on Social Security Disability Insurance.