Paralysis and Social Security Disability

According to the Christopher and Diana Reeve Foundation, 5,596,000 million people are suffering from paralysis, or about 1 in 50 Americans, with another 1,275,000 people paralyzed specifically due to spinal cord injuries. Paralysis can be caused by a number of different conditions, including stroke, cerebral palsy, and more.

If you or a loved one has been paralyzed and are no longer able to work, there may be financial support available. The Social Security Administration offers benefits to those with severely disabling conditions who are struggling to make ends meet.

Financial Costs of Paralysis

Paralysis is a very expensive condition, because of its extremely debilitating nature. However, the costs may vary depending on what disorder caused your paralysis and the severity. For spinal cord injuries, which are among the most expensive conditions causing paralysis, the total cost to the United States is about $20 billion each year, the John Fair III Spinal Cord Injury Foundation reported.

Paralysis and Social Security Disability

Tetraplegia costs between $800,000 and $1 million in the first year and between $120,000 and $190,000 each subsequent year. Paraplegia costs about $500,000 in the first year and $70,000 each year after that. Even injuries that only cause some motor function loss can cost $350,000 and then $50,000 each year following This could equal to millions of dollars over a lifetime, especially since most injuries happen between 16 and 30 years of age, the Christopher and Diana Reeve Foundation explained.

Because spinal cord injuries need so much rehabilitation time after surgery, the indirect expenses are also high. The John Fair III Spinal Cord Injury Foundation estimated that you'll lose $13,000 yearly because of missed work days, reduced employment, a change in jobs, or being unable to work at all.

Other neurological conditions have their own additional associated costs as well. For example, multiple sclerosis costs about $69,000 annually for medication and treatment, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society reported. Strokes, which are very common, cost the United States about $34 billion and each patient about $60,000 in lifetime costs according to Medscape. The Centers for Disease Control explained that caring for a child with cerebral palsy can cost up to $1 million over his or her lifetime.

Medically Qualifying for Benefits with the Blue Book

When the SSA receives an application for disability benefits, it must first evaluate the claim with its medical requirements, found in the Blue Book The Blue Book features every disability that automatically qualifies for assistance.

Because paralysis can be caused by many different conditions, there are many different listings in the Blue Book:


  • Spinal cord injury resulting in nerve root damage or compression with pain, limitation of motion of the spine, motor loss, and sensory or reflex loss.
  • Spinal arachnoiditis, which is a pain disorder that causes inflammation of one of the nerve membranes surrounding the spinal cord, manifested by severe burning or pain and resulting in the need for changes in position or posture more than once every 2 hours.


  • Significant and persistent disorganization of motor function in two extremities caused by paralysis, resulting in sustained disturbance of large movements, fine motor skills, walking or standing due to cerebral palsy, spinal cord or nerve root lesions, multiple sclerosis, post-polio syndrome, muscular dystrophy, which causes progressive muscle weakness and loss, cerebral traumas, stroke, and other neurological conditions.

If you are unable to work because of paralysis, talk to your doctor about applying for disability benefits.

Qualifying Without Meeting a Medical Listing

Though your chances of approval are high with paralysis, if don't meet any of the medical listings in the Blue Book, you can still apply for benefits with a medical-vocational allowance. If your paralysis is expected to be permanent or at least last longer than 12 months, you can apply using your Residual Functioning Capacity (RFC).

When figuring out your RFC, the SSA looks at many different things. They need the RFC assessment form, filled out by your doctor describing your condition and its limitations, your education, work history. In order to be approved, the SSA needs to find that there is no work available with your limitations and education without reasonable training that earns their 2016 minimum of $1,030 per month.

Complications that could would restrict a paralyzed person from working depend on the severity of the paralysis. Patients may need help with basic living activities, like getting out of bed, cooking, eating, using the bathroom, and traveling in addition to loss of function of the legs and/or arms.

For those with paraplegia who worked light or sedentary jobs before the accident, the SSA may find that there is some office you can do. However, those who worked in manual jobs and don't have the education or experience to work in such environments, may be approved. Patients suffering from tetraplegia are often so disabled and need such intensive care that there are few jobs they will be able to do without significant accommodations, no matter what their prior work history or education is.

How to Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits

Though you may have no choice but to apply for disability benefits, you should always talk to your doctor first. If you're are approved, the process can take up to two years to start receiving benefits. To ensure you get an answer quickly, don't wait to apply. However, if your doctor doesn't think your case is likely to be awarded benefits, the application may not be worth the trouble.

If you do decide to apply for benefits, whether with the Blue Book or an RFC, make sure not to leave any important medical information out of your claim. About 70 percent of initial claims are denied, many only because necessary medical evidence was missing.

Important medical evidence may include, depending on your original condition:

  • Positive straight-leg raising test, done both while sitting and standing.
  • Medical imaging tests, such as X-rays, MRI, CT scan, or PET scan to show spine abnormalities.
  • Biopsy of spinal nerve tissue.
  • Spinal tap, to show any abnormalities in the cerebrospinal fluid.
  • Evoked potentials test (EP), which uses electric impulses to test your brain's responses.
  • Blood tests.
  • Visual testing.
  • Neuropyschological I.Q. testing, such as the Luria-Nebraska or Halstead-Reitan.
  • Myelography, which checks nerve fibers in your spinal cord in more detail when dye is injected into the nerves so they show up very clearly on an imaging test.
  • Electromyography, which measures electrical activity in your muscles and nerves.
  • Reports of any surgeries and other hospitalizations.
  • A detailed statement from your primary care physician describing the severity of your condition and the limitations it causes you.
  • Descriptions of all treatments you've received and the outcomes.

You can apply for benefits either in person at an SSA office or using the SSA's convenient online application. If you want to apply for Supplementary Security Income, you must make an appointment at your local SSA office. Before submitting the application, check it over for any mistakes or unanswered questions, because these mistakes could impede retrieval of information the SSA needs, which may cause them to delay or deny your claim.

After you apply for disability, make sure to contact the SSA with any changes in your condition. If there is any new evidence, like hospital visits, newly affected body systems, test results, or treatment changes, or if your paralysis gets worse, the added information can help you case be approved or be approved faster.

If you are approved for disability benefits, your spouse and children could also qualify for benefits. To learn more about the different forms about disability benefits, visit our pages on Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income.