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Tips on Applying for Disability Benefits with Spinal Cord Injuries

A spinal cord injury is when the bones, tissue, or nerves around the spine become damaged, which can lead to loss of function. Most spinal cord injuries are the result of some sort of accident, and not disease.

Medical Evidence

To receive disability benefits for a spinal cord injury, there are certain types of medical evidence you can show to the Social Security Administration (SSA) to help your claim.

Keep in mind that most spinal cord injury claims are based on pain, which is difficult to be measured by medical tests. Therefore, the pain or limitations you experience can be worse than the evidence you provide is able to prove. Because of this, the SSA will often make their decisions based on your own claims and statements instead of your medical history, and they will attempt to determine whether your disability caused by pain is truthful or exaggerated.

There is certain medical evidence that you should provide to the SSA. Helpful tests to include with your claim are any x-rays or MRIs of your spine that were taken around the time of your injury.


Non-Medical Evidence

When determining if you are eligible for disability benefits, the SSA will also look at any functional limitations to your ability to work. Functional limitations are any activities you aren’t able to do because of your spinal cord injury. This is arguably the most important evidence you can provide to the SSA for a spinal cord injury claim, and these activities will be included in your Residual Functional Capacity assessment, or RFC.

Your RFC shows how much work you can reasonably expected to perform with your spinal cord injury. While the SSA will prepare an RFC for you based on your own medical history and records, it is especially helpful if the doctor responsible for treating your spinal cord injury also fills out an RFC for you. The opinion of a spinal specialist will be more valuable to the SSA when they determine your eligibility.

There are certain functional limitations that may make you eligible for disability benefits with your spinal cord injury. It is important that these disabilities are well documented in your medical history. These limitations can include:

  • If you are unable to walk for more than one block without needing to take a break
  • If you can’t bend over or stoop down
  • If you can’t lift objects over ten pounds
  • If you can’t sit up or stand for at least two hours per day
  • If you need to keep one leg elevated throughout the day
  • If you must be able to move around or change positions frequently
  • If you need to lay down for most of the day
  • If you can’t sit down for at least six hours during a workday

A final step for the SSA in determining your eligibility for disability benefits is your credibility. For this, they will look at your medical history as well as statements by your doctors and previous employers, your daily activities, your medical treatment and medication history, and more. It is important that your statements and those of your doctors remain consistent to potentially qualify you as disabled.