Everyday activities from sitting and walking to sleeping can put tremendous strain on our spines, which can often manifest in the form of pain in our necks and backs. In America, ninety percent of all people suffer from back or neck pain at some point during their lives. For many of those that suffer from severe spinal conditions, the disorder is not simply painful but truly disabling.
Spinal disorders can come in many different forms and have varying medical causes. Some of the most common disabling problems include spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis degenerative disc disease, spinal arachnoiditis, herniated discs, facet arthritis, and vertebral fracture. All of these conditions cause severe back and neck pain, and in many cases may cause other symptoms including muscular weakness, immobility, and pain that radiates to other places in the body.
Diagnosis of disabling spinal conditions generally begins with a simple physical exam. If symptoms do not decrease after prescription medications are administered, additional testing is necessary. Depending on the suspected medical cause, physicians will order X-rays, MRI, and CT scans. Should the condition progress to the point where it interferes with the ability to work, then it is time to consider filing for disability.
Filing for Social Security Disability with a Spine Condition
Section 1.04 of the Social Security Adminstration's impairment listing manual, also known as the “Blue Book,” describes eligibility criteria for spinal conditions. While many spinal disorders are covered under Social Security Disability (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), certain conditions must be met before the application will be approved. The first step in filing for SSDI or SSI due to a disabling spinal condition is having a specific diagnosis made by a qualified physician. Keep in mind, that the state-run Disability Determination Services (DDS) give much greater weight to a diagnosis by a specialist like an orthopedist than that of a general practitioner or family doctor.
Next you must prove that the condition affects your ability to work. Again, medical and disability specialists are the best people to turn to help prove inability to function at work, particular as some spine conditions have additional requirements designated in the Blue Book. For example, there must be diagnostic evidence of nerve root compression, sensory or reflex loss, and a positive SLR (Straight Leg Raising) test for conditions affecting the lower back. Some conditions, such as spinal arachnoiditis, will require surgical notes and tissue biopsy reports. Consulting with a qualified Social Security Disability lawyer or advocate can prove invaluable in determining all the specific requirements for pursuing disability benefits on the basis of a spine disability.
Medically Qualifying For Disability Benefits Through An RFC Analysis
Just because you are unable to work because of a medical condition doesn’t mean that you will qualify for disability benefits through the medical criteria as specified in the Blue Book. If you cannot meet the Blue Book criteria, you can qualify using a medical vocational allowance. The medical vocational allowance involves considering your age, your medical conditions, your symptoms, side effects, work history, transferrable skills, and educational background to determine if you are capable of working, and if so, what kind of work you can do.
Using a medical vocational allowance, you will need to have a residual functional capacity (RFC) completed by your treating physician. An RFC is a very detailed form. It specifies what you can and cannot do, and clearly indicates limitations and restrictions.
As an example, it may say that you must reposition yourself every hour or two, cannot stand longer than two consecutive hours, cannot lift more than 10 pounds, cannot bend and reach, is unable to squat, and that you need help when getting up from a seated position.
The RFC should give Disability Determination Services (DDS) a clear picture of your overall health and how your medical conditions affect your ability to work and function. If you can show that your ability to perform daily tasks is limited and that affects your ability to work and earn a living.
Through the overall picture of a medical vocational allowance, and then the RFC provided by your regular provider, you are much more likely to be able to get your claim approved. Basically, a medical vocational allowance helps the SSA see that your medical condition keeps you from performing any work duties that you qualify for, and that despite not medically qualifying by the Blue Book criteria, you still qualify.
How To Apply For Disability Benefits With A Spinal Condition
If you have a disabling spinal condition, you may be eligible to receive disability benefits. When you apply for disability benefits you will need to show that you have a disabling condition that will last for 12 months or longer or lead to death. There are three ways to apply for disability benefits. You can start your application online at the Social Security website, or by calling 1-800-772-1213 and speaking to a representative or by scheduling an appointment at your local SSA field office.
If you are applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is a needs-based disability program, you will need to submit the application at your local SSA field office. There are more than 1,300 field offices spread across the country. To apply for disability benefits, you will need to provide supporting documentation that shows your medical conditions and the severity of those problems.
You must provide detailed medical history information. That means that you should provide a detailed list that includes all the medical providers that you have sought treatment from. This list should include the name of the provider, the address and contact information for the provider, and the approximate dates of service when you received medical treatment from that provider.
You will need to gather your financial records to apply for SSI. This includes financial records to indicate your income, any assets and resources, and bank account balances. You should also gather personal records that the SSA will need to review your claim. This will include details regarding your work history. Your work history will need to include your work duties and your job title along with salary details.
Regardless of whether you are using the Blue Book approach, or you are using a medical vocational approach with an RFC analysis the detailed medical history is required. Your medical records must be detailed and complete.
You should provide detailed reports from any and all doctors, including specialists. You should provide reports for any tests, including x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and so forth that detail the severity of your spinal condition.
Also, if your spinal condition has required surgery, be sure to provide copies of any surgical reports and any physician notes about the spinal condition both before and after surgical intervention. Provide all the details that you can so DDS can see the severity of your condition and how it limits your ability to work.
It may also be beneficial if you can get statements from supervisors or co-workers that explain how your functionality and your ability to work has changed since you suffered from the spinal condition. These are people who know first-hand about how your injury has impacted your ability to work and the pain that you suffer from the condition.
Your Spine Disorder Disability Claim
Spinal conditions are some of the most painful and disabling medical disorders. Whether your spinal condition was caused by a traumatic injury or a degenerative disorder you may qualify for SSDI or SSI assistance. When you are diagnosed with a disabling spinal condition, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. While you should be focused on doing everything you can to feel better, the unfortunate fact is that you will probably have to deal with the reality of paying bills and caring for loved ones.
Luckily, Social Security Disability attorneys and advocates are available to help you through every step of the approval process. Qualified legal assistance can help you with everything from preparing your initial Social Security Disability application to assisting with the reconsideration and appeals processes.
Enlisting The Help Of a Disability Lawyer
If you have a spinal condition that keeps you from working, you should start the application for disability benefits from the SSA. When you apply for disability benefits, documentation is essential to your claim’s success. Most claims are denied on the initial review, and if that happens, you can file a request for reconsideration.
When your claim is denied, they will tell you why your claim wasn’t approved and based on that, you will be able to determine what you need to help show them that you are disabled. You should gather that additional information and send it to them after you file your appeal.
Your claim will not be approved without the needed information. You will also need to file your appeal before time runs out. If you miss the deadline, you will have to reapply for disability benefits and start the process all over.
When you have a disability lawyer, your attorney will be sure that everything is filed by the deadline and that all the needed documentation is provided to the SSA for review. You can retain a disability attorney at anytime during the claims process. Complete the Free Case Evaluation on this page to get connected with a disability lawyer that takes cases in your area today!