Motor Neuron Disease and Social Security Disability

Motor neuron disease is actually a blanket term used to describe a variety of neurological disorders that all cause irreparable damage to the motor neurons, which are the cells responsible for controlling muscles. Neurological disorders that fall under this broad medical category are diseases in which the motor neurons are damaged, and often eventually destroyed. Neurons affected can vary as well, including those responsible for controlling the voluntary muscles required for breathing, swallowing, speaking, and walking, among other basic functions.

The Progression of Motor Neuron Disease

Motor neuron disease is typically progressive in nature, worsening over time. The initial symptoms of the illness usually present as fatigue and muscle weakness, twitching, pain, and cramping. Dependent upon the areas of the body affected by the condition, other early symptoms may also be present, and may include headaches, slurred speech, and shortness of breath, among others.

As the disease progresses, muscles become weaker, and patients typically experience worsening symptoms that include muscle spasms, stiffness, and increased pain. They may also have greater difficulty communicating, thinking clearly, sleeping, and remembering things, and may experience emotional changes that often include depression and anxiety. In its most advanced stages, motor neuron disease usually results in respiratory complications and total body paralysis.

Qualifying for Social Security Disability with Motor Neuron Disease

As a severely debilitating, degenerative neurological disorder, motor neuron disease is certainly disabling. However, there is no dedicated listing for the disease in the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Blue Book, which is the manual of potentially disabling conditions used for evaluating Social Security Disability (SSD) benefit applications.

Though there is no listing for the disease, you can still qualify for disability benefits. To do so, you must either meet or match the listing for another condition that does appear in the Blue Book, or be granted benefits under a medical vocational allowance after an analysis of your residual functional capacity.

Common conditions listed in the Blue Book that an application based on motor neuron disease may meet or match include:

  • Section 11.00 – Disorganization of Motor Function
  • Section 11.10 – Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
  • Section 11.14 – Peripheral Neuropathies
  • Section 11.16 - Subacute combined cord degeneration (pernicious anemia) with disorganization of motor function
  • Section 11.17 - Degenerative disease not listed elsewhere, such as Huntington's Chorea, Friedreich's ataxia, and spino-cerebellar degeneration

In most instances, an application for SSD benefits filed with a diagnosis of motor neuron disease will closely match one of the previously noted listings in the Blue Book. If yours does not, you can still qualify for disability benefits under a medical vocational allowance.
To meet the eligibility criteria for a medical vocational allowance, the SSA will need to establish your residual functional capacity (RFC). This is achieved by reviewing how your condition affects your everyday abilities, including your ability to completed normal, daily tasks as well as typical job duties. Functional reports completed by you and by your physician will be required to evaluate your RFC, in addition to the extensive medical records that are required for any SSD application.

Medical Evidence and your Motor Neuron Disease SSD Application

Your medical records are a substantial part of proving your disability to the SSA. Records should include the names and contact information for you all your treating physicians, including any hospitals or other health care facilities at which you’ve received treatment. Your records should additionally include documentation of all medical tests you’ve had performed and medications you’ve taken, as well as the affect of each treatment you’ve received.

Specific records the SSA will look for when evaluating your medical documentation include:

  • Electromyography or nerve conduction studies showing decreased functioning of the motor neurons
  • Lab tests, including blood, urine and other exams that can rule out other disorders and diseases with symptoms similar to motor neuron
  • At least one MRI showing neurological symptoms are not the result of a spinal cord tumor, injury, or other disorder affecting the central nervous system
  • Muscle and/or nerve biopsies that confirm nerve damage and disease

Getting Help with your Motor Neuron Disease SSD Application

Because there is no dedicated listing with the SSA for motor neuron disease, your medical documentation and other records included in your application must be thorough. You may decide to seek assistance with your application and in collecting the required documentation. A social security advocate or disability attorney can be an invaluable resource when completing your initial application, in addressing any requests for additional information from the SSA, and in filing an appeal, if your initial application for SSD benefits is denied.