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Dystonia and Disability Benefits

Dystonia can develop in childhood or adulthood and can be “focal” or “generalized.” When focal, it causes uncontrolled muscle contractions in one specific area of the body. In generalized cases, the disorder affects the entire body. These uncontrolled movements can affect coordination and the ability to grasp, write, walk, or complete any variety of everyday activities.

Dystonia can also cause fatigue, chronic pain, concentration problems, sleep disturbances, mood changes, and other symptoms. This disorder is often seen alone, but it can occur in combination with other medical conditions. When dystonia is severe and prevents employment, it can qualify for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits.

Medically Qualifying with Dystonia

Although the Social Security Administration (SSA) has no disability listing for dystonia, there are still several ways to qualify for benefits, including:

  • Meeting a listing for another impairment you have
  • Closely matching a similar condition, like Parkinson’s or Seizures
  • Proving severe impairment through a functional capacity analysis

If you have a concurrent medical condition, like Parkinson’s, Myasthenia Gravis, or a brain injury, you may be able to qualify for benefits by meeting the disability listing for that condition. If the SSA is able to approve your application under another listing, then you will get benefits, even if your dystonia is not severe enough to prevent employment.

When the SSA must base your eligibility on dystonia symptoms alone, they will first try to match the symptoms to a similar disability. They may attempt to match your medical records to:

  • Convulsive or non-convulsive seizures
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Myasthenia Gravis
  • Traumatic Brain Injury

If your symptoms are a close enough match to a listed condition, the SSA can grant benefits based on your condition being a “medical equivalent” to a recognized disability.

If no severity level match or equivalent can be made, then they will need to review your residual functional capacity or RFC. This looks at your activities of daily living to determine how significantly your symptoms impair your everyday abilities. If the SSA finds you are unable to work in any job that you would otherwise be qualified to hold, then you will be approved for disability benefits.

Medical records are a key component in applying for SSD. Whether you meet or match a listed impairment or must go through an RFC analysis, the SSA needs to see thorough documentation supporting your claim, including:

  • A statement from your doctor containing the diagnosis, symptoms, severity level, and outlook for the future as well as treatment plans and treatments that have already been attempted
  • Records of muscle groups involved and the frequency and duration of muscle contractions
  • Details of all other symptoms, including chronic pain, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and how these affect your everyday abilities

Medical documentation should also include information on any other conditions you have. The SSA will consider your overall health and abilities when deciding if you are eligible for benefits.

Getting Help with Your Claim

Many applicants for disability benefits are initially denied. The chance of receiving a denial notice are even higher if you have a condition like dystonia for which there is no standard disability listing. You may wish to seek assistance from a Social Security attorney or advocate to increase your chances of receiving benefits. An advocate or attorney can also help you build a strong case for appealing a denial, if the SSA finds you ineligible for benefits.