An estimated 5.4 million Americans are currently living with some form of paralysis. Approximately half of these people are considered paraplegic, or paralyzed from the waist down. Many different conditions and injuries can lead to paraplegia.
While some people may suffer life-threatening complications related to paralysis, others may go on to lead productive, full lives.
If you have been impacted by paraplegia and are unable to work to your full capacity, there could be financial help available to you. The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program was created to assist those who have become disabled due to a health issue such as paralysis.
What Exactly is Paraplegia?
Paraplegia is the loss of muscle function to the lower half of the body. More often than not, it is accompanied by loss of sensation below the waist. The paralysis can be temporary or permanent. It can also be partial or complete.
With partial paralysis, you may be able to have some control over the muscles.
The four most common causes of paraplegia are a stroke, head injury, multiple sclerosis, and spinal cord injury due to trauma. Illnesses such as cerebral palsy or Lou Gehrig’s disease can also cause paraplegia.
Paraplegia is a variable condition. An individual might experience symptoms that change over time, or even day to day. While there is no cure for permanent paraplegia, some people may regain function over time.
What Symptoms Do I Need to Qualify?
Individuals with paraplegia may face a broad range of symptoms, affecting one’s ability to work differently. The Social Security Administration (SSA) lists the criteria for disability benefits in the Social Security Blue Book. Section 1.04 addresses disorders of the spine.
Additionally, if your paralysis has a neurological cause, you might be evaluated under Section 11, neurological disorders. Here are some signs that you might qualify for financial assistance from the SSA for your paralysis:
- Complete loss of function of any part of your body may make it difficult to work. The SSA requires that your loss of function last for at least three months before considering your application because paralysis may sometimes be temporary.
- The majority of people with paraplegia have challenges moving from a seated position to standing, if they are able to stand at all. Some may experience difficulty with balance when walking or standing. Again, walking and standing are not possible for some individuals. If your job demands that you stand or walk, you may experience challenges continuing at your job.
- Neurological disorders, which cause paralysis, may lead to mental impairments as well. Some individuals may experience difficulty interacting with others, understanding information, or concentrating. As most jobs require communication and focus, work may prove difficult for you.
- Paralysis can cause anxiety and depression, which may impact your ability to work. If you experience emotional difficulty as a result of your illness, this may be considered in your application.
- If you do not meet the qualifying criteria in the Blue Book, you still may be evaluated by the SSA for your “Residual Functioning Capacity” or RFC. The SSA will determine your abilities and make recommendations for you. For example, if you are unable to walk, but you are able to perform sedentary work, the SSA will determine your eligibility for benefits.
Do I Qualify for Social Security Benefits?
To be eligible for Social Security benefits, your medical records will need to show that the symptoms of your paralysis have been present for at least three months and that they are severe enough to prevent you from working at a level which would support you.
Additionally, your paralysis needs to be expected to last for at least 12 months. For most people with paraplegia, this will be the case.
What Information Will I Need to Provide?
When applying for Social Security for your paralysis, you may be asked to provide the following:
- Confirmation of your diagnosis from your doctor, including notes addressing your function and mobility.
- X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, or other imaging results.
- Electromyography (EMG) or Somatosensory Evoked Potential (SSEP) results, if performed.
- Blood and urine tests, especially if you are experiencing other health problems secondary to your paralysis.
- Notes from your doctor, physical therapist, or other health care provider that describe your symptoms and prognosis.
If you are missing any of the above information, contact your doctor or hospital immediately. The more medical evidence that you have on your side, the better your chances of receiving SSDI benefits for your paraplegia.
If you are a paraplegic and believe that you may qualify for Social Security benefits, you should contact a disability advocate or lawyer in your area. Losing function or feeling in any part of your body is life-changing.
When your health is suffering, it can be difficult to know where to turn or what to do next. A qualified attorney can help you navigate the Social Security Disability application process, leaving you time to focus on what’s most important: your health.