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How Disabling is a Stroke?

Close to 800,000 people suffer from a stroke each year in the United States, making it the leading cause of serious, long-term disability. A stroke, which is also known as a cerebral vascular accident (CVA), is the 5th leading cause of death in the United States and often requires a lifelong recovery process.

If you have suffered from a stroke and are unable to work as a result of your disability, 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 an event such as a stroke.

What Exactly Is a Stroke?

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is blocked or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. The majority of strokes (80%) are caused by a blockage to the brain, which is referred to as an ischemic stroke.

Hemorrhagic strokes, or bleeding in the brain, make up the remaining 20% of strokes. Strokes are sometimes also referred to as brain attacks.

The effects of a stroke vary from person to person, and it could depend on which part of the brain was injured and how quickly the individual was able to get medical treatment.

The effects from a stroke can include paralysis, weakness, difficulty with language, vision problems, swallowing difficulties, cognitive difficulties, and depression, just to name a few.

While there is no cure for a stroke once it has occurred, there are many ways to modify your lifestyle to help avoid having a stroke. Stroke recovery varies depending on the severity of the stroke, but approximately 10% of people make a full recovery.

Social Security Benefits for Stroke

What Symptoms Do I Need to Qualify?

There is a range of symptoms that you might experience when you have stroke, and they all might affect your ability to work. Stroke can be found in the Neurological section, 11.04, of the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) “Blue Book.”

This manual lists a variety of conditions, as well as the requirements needed to qualify for benefits under these conditions. According to the Blue Book, here are some signs that you might qualify for disability benefits based on your stroke:

  • Some people who have a stroke experience difficulty with basic communication skills. If you continue to experience difficulty in your ability to speak or understand others for three consecutive months after your stroke, you may qualify for Social Security benefits. For example, if you have difficulty following one-step commands or telling someone about your basic personal needs, you will likely be considered for benefits.
  • If you have difficulty with the movement of any two body parts, such as your hand and your leg, you will likely have problems standing up from a seated position or balancing while standing or walking. If your job requires you to stand or walk, you may qualify for Social Security benefits.
  • If you have challenges with your two hands, or with any of your fingers, you will likely face challenges with your job. Most jobs depend on your ability to perform fine and gross motor movements with your arms, hands, and fingers. You may have difficulty typing, handling money, reaching for an object, holding a pen, or carrying something. If so, you may be eligible for Social Security benefits.
  • If you experience vision difficulties as a result of your stroke, you may be evaluated under the special senses body system, section 2.00, of the Blue Book.
  • Many people who have had a stroke require the use of assistive devices to function in their everyday life. It is possible that you will need to rely on the use of a walker, two canes, crutches, another person, or a wheelchair to get around. If you depend on assistance with walking, your doctor should write you a prescription for an assistive device, which will serve as evidence for your need for Social Security benefits.
  • Many post-stroke symptoms might affect your ability to work. If you have marked physical limitations such as difficulty seeing, trouble with bladder or bowel control, difficulty breathing or swallowing, or severe pain, you will surely have limitations in your ability to work.
  • Some people who have had a stroke experience difficulty interacting with other people. For example, the injury to your brain might affect your ability to handle conflicts, ask for help when needed, or carry on a pleasant conversation. If you experience difficulty communicating with your boss or maintaining social relationships with your co-workers as a result of your stroke, you may be considered for financial assistance from the SSA.
  • After having a stroke, some people have difficulty concentrating and focusing or keeping up at a reasonable pace. For example, if you constantly have trouble finishing your work on time or working without continued disruption, there is a good likelihood that you will qualify for Social Security benefits.
  • Nearly all jobs require the ability to understand information and follow instructions. People who have had a stroke sometimes have difficulty with this mental functioning. For example, if your boss assigns you a task and you are unable to perform it due to your stroke, you might be eligible for SSDI benefits.
  • It is very common after a stroke to experience depression or other mood disorders. If you suffer from extreme sadness, anxiety, or other mood-related illnesses related to your stroke, you might be considered for benefits under Section 12.00 of the “Blue Book.”

Do I Qualify for Social Security Benefits?

To be eligible for Social Security benefits, your medical records will need to show that your symptoms are severe enough to prevent you from working at a level that would support you. Additionally, your illness needs to be disabling for at least 12 months. While you may continue to recover from your stroke, the road is likely to be a long one.

What Information Will I Need to Provide?

When applying for Social Security, you may be asked to provide the following documentation:

  • Physical exam and progress notes from your doctor, preferably a neurologist. These notes should include any health deficits and your long-term prognosis
  • Emergency room progress notes and reports, including medications administered during emergency treatment
  • Inpatient hospital-stay records
  • If you required any kind of invasive procedure or surgery, all surgical notes and procedure notes
  • MRI, CT scan, or any other imaging from your initial hospital visit, as well as subsequent imaging
  • Carotid ultrasound reports, if applicable
  • Cerebral angiography results, if performed
  • Blood lab work, which will help to determine if any other areas of your body were affected
  • Echocardiogram, if applicable
  • Additional notes from any other health care providers helping you with your condition, such as documentation from your psychologist, physical therapist, social worker, etc.

You should speak with your doctor’s office, hospital, or other health-care providers if you are missing any of the above medical reports. The more medical evidence that you have on your side, the better your chances of receiving SSDI benefits for your stroke.

What’s Next?

If you have suffered from a stroke and you believe that you may qualify for Social Security benefits, you should contact a disability advocate or lawyer in your area immediately. Having a stroke is a life-altering event. While you focus on your health, a qualified attorney can help guide you through the Social Security application process.