Qualifying for Disability with Parkinson's Disease

What is Parkinson's Disease?

Parkinson’s Disease is a neurological disorder which affects motor functioning. In most cases, the cause of Parkinson’s is unknown. In a few cases, the cause can be traced. In such instances, the cause is generally either genetic or related to drug use (legal or otherwise) or head injuries.

The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include shaking (tremors), rigidity of muscles, problems walking, difficulty speaking or inability to speak, diminished higher brain functions, loss or slowing of physical movement, and depression. As many as 80% of those with Parkinson’s Disease also deal with depression as a direct result of the effects of Parkinson’s.

The disease in not lethal in and of itself, though it often leads to early death because those with Parkinson’s are more susceptible to choking, pneumonia, and accidents. There is no known cure, though there are some medical treatments which have met with varying degrees of success. The disease is progressive in nature, meaning that symptoms tend to get worse the longer one has Parkinson’s.

Qualifying for Disability with Parkinson's Disease

What to Qualify for SSD Benefits with Parkinson's

Currently, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is in the process of holding hearings to consider whether Parkinson’s disease should qualify a Social Security Disability applicant for a compassionate allowance.

When a condition is given compassionate allowance standard, those who are diagnosed with the condition automatically qualify for Social Security disability benefits and usually begin collecting Social Security Disability benefit payments much sooner.

Until then, however, those with Parkinson’s, like people with any other disability, must demonstrate conclusively that their condition hinders them from performing any kind of work which they have performed in the past 15 years or for which they could reasonably be trained.

In most cases, proving that you cannot be expected to train for new kinds of employment is not difficult with Parkinson’s. However, proving that you are incapable of continuing to perform work which you have previously performed might be, depending on what kinds of work you have done.

It is generally a good idea for anyone applying for Social Security Disability benefits to consult and obtain representation by a qualified Social Security Disability lawyer. It’s especially important for those with conditions like Parkinson’s disease which can affect a person’s cognitive ability and ability to speak.

You are entitled to representation at all stages of the Social Security disability process, both during your initial claim and during any steps of the appeals process which may be necessary before your claim is approved.

At the moment, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is conducting hearings in order to determine if Parkinson’s disease victims should qualify for a Social Security Disability compassionate allowance.

If this is approved, anyone who has been diagnosed with the disease will qualify without question for SSDI benefits without facing any delays in payments. At the moment this approval has not taken place so victims are treated in the same way as those with any other kind of disability.

That means they have to provide sufficient evidence to prove their medical condition prevents them from engaging in workplace activities. This includes the ability to be trained in another sort of job skill.

The decision will depend on the kind of job the victim had been doing up to the date of the Parkinson’s disease diagnosis. Also, every victim is different in the way Parkinson’s disease develops. Some people may be incapacitated earlier than others. This means qualifying for SSDI benefits is not a clear cut process.

Differences Between SSI and SSDI Benefits

Depending on your circumstances, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or both. SSDI eligibility is based on your work history and how much you have paid into the program during the years you worked.

SSI eligibility is based on your financial need. To qualify for either program, you will need to be determined to be completely disabled by the SSA.

If you have Parkinson’s disease, you should contact the SSA immediately and let them know that you plan to file for Social Security Disability benefits. Then, you should contact a Social Security disability lawyer.

While some Parkinson’s sufferers have relatively mild symptoms which increase slowly over time, others degenerate rapidly. It’s best to have the representation you need before your condition becomes severe enough to make representing yourself difficult.

The Importance of the “Blue Book” Listing

The Social Security ‘s (SSA) Blue Book is a medical guide, indicating the criteria required to qualify for SSDI benefits.

As a neurological disorder, Parkinson’s disease can be found in a list in section 11.06 of the Blue Book. The requirements to qualify include providing a significant amount of evidence that shows the onset of Parkinson’s disease presents significant challenges to the victim in relation to mobility.

Evidence Required by the Blue Book for Eligibility for SSDI Benefits

It is necessary to provide a complete medical history in relation to the Parkinson disease diagnosis. This is vital as there is no test that determines if someone has Parkinson’s disease. This means a report from a neurologist is required.

The overall medical history should show the development of the symptoms and how the disease is progressing. It is important that the neurologist describes your physical limitations which should include the following:

  • difficulties you have with moving shoulders, fingers, wrists, legs, arms, or hands that could affect your ability to work;
  • challenges getting up when seated;
  • difficulties standing in an upright position also balancing and walking,
  • any breathing problems you have which means if you require any assistance to breathe.

Mental Limitations

According to the Blue Book mental limitations should be documented as well such as:

  • ability to concentrate and maintain a certain pace at work,
  • difficulties when interacting with others;
  • problems controlling emotions;
  • difficulties with understanding, remembering, or applying information.

Because of the lack of availability of a test for Parkinson’s disease, the presence of what are referred to as “cardinal symptoms” show that Parkinson’s disease is present in a person which are tremor, bradykinesia, and muscle rigidity.

Tremors of the hands, when the hand is resting, and symptoms that start on one side of the body are positive signs of the disease. When the body’s reactions get to this point it is likely the victim will qualify for SSDI. However, the SSA cannot necessarily be trusted to honor a disability and award SSDI benefits so a disability attorney should be contacted so that the SSDI can be processed without delay.

The Blue Book states that you must possess the above symptoms and that none of these symptoms have responded to medication following no less than three consecutive months of treatment.

Other Things the SSA Requires

On top of this evidence, the SSA requires the following;

  • names of all medications and how you have responded to their use;
  • any surgical treatment that you have undertaken such as deep brain stimulation (DBS);
  • any physical therapy you are receiving aimed at treating your Parkinson’s disease;
  • the impact Parkinson’s disease has had on both your mental and physical health;
  • how your illness has progressed and its likely outcome.

If your symptoms fail to meet the requirements of section 11.06 of the Blue Book listing, you may still be too disabled to go to work. A residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment should be performed by your neurologist.

This includes assessing your ability to undertake routine tasks like tying your shoe laces, or combing your hair and holding a pen without dropping it. If the RFC proves you are not fit for work you should qualify for SSDI benefits.

In order to help you reach the right outcome for your SSDI benefits claim you should do the following:

  • keep medical documents/history and ensure they are kept up-to-date;
  • make a note of all activities you cannot do anymore like getting out of bed and using the bathroom;
  • keep a list of current and past medications you have taken and now take;
  • make sure you see your doctor regularly and each time request a record of your symptoms which you can keep to use as evidence for your SSDI application;
  • keep records of how the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease have progressively affected the amount of work you can do on the job.

The more evidence you gather the easier it is to qualify under the Blue Book listing for Parkinson’s disease and you can guarantee getting the SSDI benefits you require. Any slip ups may lead to you being denied the much needed financial security that you are likely to need for the rest of your life.

Additional Resources