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Myoclonic Epilepsy and Ragged Red Fibers Syndrome and Social Security Disability

The Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits application process can be quite lengthy, with most people waiting at least three months for their initial application to be reviewed. On average, about 70 percent of applications are initially denied benefits by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Denials occur for a variety of reasons, though insufficient medical documentation supporting the disability claim is the most common cause.

If denied SSD benefits, the applicant must proceed through a second review. If denied benefits again, the decision can be appealed, and each step in the process increases the wait for benefits by several months at least. The entire process, from first review to final appeal, can take a year or more, with some applicants waiting more than two years for a final determination on eligibility.

For anyone suffering from a severe disability or terminal illness, waiting months or years for a decision on eligibility for benefits is impossible. For this reason, the SSA implemented the Compassionate Allowances (CAL) program in 2008, which allows for the expedited processing of disability applications which contain certain diagnoses, now including Myoclonic Epilepsy and Ragged Red Fibers Syndrome.

Currently, there are 113 conditions which fall under the CAL program. Come August 13, 2012, there will be 52 more conditions added to the list of disabilities which qualify for expedited processing under the SSA’s CAL guidelines. Myoclonic Epilepsy and Ragged Red Fibers Syndrome is among those which will become active on the list in August of this year.

If you’ve received a diagnosis of Myoclonic Epilepsy and Ragged Red Fibers Syndrome, the information which follows will help you understand the SSA’s disability claims review process. It will also provide you some insight into how to more quickly see disability benefits approved under the CAL guidelines.

Myoclonic Epilepsy and Ragged Red Fibers Syndrome – Condition and Symptoms

Myoclonic Epilepsy and Ragged Red Fibers Syndrome, or MERRF, is a rare, genetic disease, affecting only about one in every 400,000 people. It’s caused by the presence of clusters of Ragged Red Fibers in the mitochondria in muscle tissue.

Those who suffer from the disease present a range of symptoms, including short stature, poor night vision, intolerance to exercise or exertion, hearing loss, and lactic acidosis. With MERRF, progressive Myoclonic Epilepsy is the primary symptom. Individuals commonly experience myoclonic seizures, tonic-clonic seizures, and progressive neurological decline.

Myoclonic seizures cause brief muscle twitching which often becomes more frequent over time. This type of seizure can also cause rapid blinking and sneezing fits. Tonic-clonic seizures are dual-phased, beginning with muscle tensing and usually causing the person to collapse. The second phase of the seizure causes a series of rapid convulsions of the muscles, alternating between muscle tensing and relaxing in close and repeated succession. Progressive neurological symptoms include problems with muscle coordination and movement and cognitive decline, including eventual dementia.

The symptoms cluster can indicate MERRF. A definitive diagnosis requires a test called a Gomori trichrome stain, in which a biopsy of skeletal muscle tissue is examined for the presence of diseased mitochondria or Ragged Red Fibers.

Like most diseases which originate in the mitochondrial DNA, there is no cure for MERRF and treatment primarily focuses on reducing symptoms and keeping the patient as comfortable as possible. Anti-seizure medications are used to reduce the frequency and severity of seizures; however, because the condition is progressive, leading to neurological decline, dementia eventually results and the illness is ultimately terminal.

Filing for Social Security Disability with Myoclonic Epilepsy and Ragged Red Fibers Syndrome

You must have extensive medical records in any claim for SSD. This is true even if your disability falls under the CAL program. In other words, even with a diagnosis of MERRF, automatic approval of benefits is not guaranteed. You will still need to provide adequate documentation related to the diagnosis and treatment of the condition, including all your medical records, lab and other test results, and statements from treating physicians. The more detailed the medical documentation you include in your application for SSD, the less likely you are to see delays in your approval for disability benefits.

Your Myoclonic Epilepsy and Ragged Red Fibers Syndrome Social Security Disability Case

While Myoclonic Epilepsy and Ragged Red Fibers Syndrome is now considered a Compassionate Allowance by the SSA, and therefore qualifies for expedited processing, the diagnosis alone is not enough to be found eligible for disability benefits. You must include substantial proof of disability in your application. A Social Security Disability lawyer can help you through the application and review processes, assist in getting the right documentation into your case file, and can shorten your wait for benefits as well.