Listing for Neurological Disorders to be Reviewed by SSA

The Social Security Administration (SSA) recently announced it will be reviewing and potentially revising the current listing for Neurological Disorders within its “Blue Book”, the standard qualification criteria for disabling conditions under the Social Security Disability (SSD) program.

The current listing for Neurological Disorders includes 17 different categories that encompass the majority of the 600 distinct neurological conditions that have been identified. The SSA periodically reviews its standard qualification criteria and during such a review opens up a public forum in which expert testimony, individual accounts and other forms of information regarding different disabling and potentially disabling conditions is collected and examined.

Before a public commentary session commences, the SSA must first publish a “Notice of Proposed Rule Making” or NPRM. This formal document is required to legally open up the editorial and update process for adjusting the standard documentation and assessment procedures for disability claimant eligibility.

According to some, this process is long overdue for the Neurological Disorders criteria for SSD benefits. The reason for this assertion is the relatively small number of individuals who have been awarded disability benefit in recent years with a neurological disorder diagnosis.

Despite the inherently disabling nature of many neurological conditions, less than 9 percent of the more than one million disabled workers who were newly awarded benefits in 2010 were disabled by a neurological condition. Many experts believe this statistic is a clear sign the SSA’s eligibility criteria and review processes for neurological disorders need to be updated.

Neurological Disorders include a wide range of medical conditions that affect the central and peripheral nervous system, the sensory organs, and the brain. Major categories of neurological conditions currently covered in the SSA’s Blue Book include:

  • Genetic disorders like muscular dystrophy and Huntington’s Disease
  • Vascular diseases that affect blood flow to the brain
  • Degenerative neurological conditions when damaged and dying nerve cells results in continued decline, like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and ALS
  • Brain and spinal cord injuries
  • Seizure disorders
  • Infectious diseases that result in brain and nervous system damage, like Meningitis and Syphilis
  • Cancers that affect the brain and nervous system

Public commentary hearings held by the SSA when reviewing SSD procedures and eligibility criteria usually last only a few days. Most of the participants that speak during these hearings are medical and occupational experts, and representatives from patient support organizations and not-for-profit associations linked with the medical condition(s) being reviewed. Individual members of the public may submit written comments to the SSA for consideration as part of review and written comments are also accepted after hearing findings are published in the Federal Register.

The findings of the hearings result in proposed changes to the SSD procedural manuals and other documents as well as the Disability Determination Services’ standard methods for evaluating disability applications that contain neurological disorder diagnoses. Public comments on the proposed changes are reviewed prior to the formal revision of the SSD procedures and practices.