Filing for Social Security Disability with Post Polio

Post-polio syndrome affects individuals who were diagnosed with poliomyelitis and recovered from the disease. Generally, post-polio syndrome does not occur for at least twenty years following the initial bout of poliomyelitis. Post-Polio syndrome is not a recurrence of polio; rather it is a syndrome, which for unknown reasons affects individuals who had polio.

Individuals with post-polio syndrome are very difficult to diagnose due to how non-specific the symptoms are. Physical symptoms of post-polio syndrome include increased muscular weakness, significant pain, and fatigue; in fact many individuals with post-polio syndrome are initially thought to have Lou Gehrig's disease because of the severe muscle weakness.

Many individuals with post-polio syndrome also suffer from cognitive deficits, including a condition known as brain fog, and memory loss. However, once again, these symptoms are difficult to discern from the aging process in general. Treatment for post-polio syndrome is for the most part palliative. For instance post-polio syndrome sufferers may have to use leg braces and orthotics to help with muscle weakness. And due to the progressive nature of the syndrome, many individuals with post-polio syndrome will have to used motorized wheelchairs or scooters (hand powered wheelchairs do not work well due to arm weakness).

As a former disability examiner who worked on evaluating Social Security Disability and SSI disability cases for the social security administration, I can state that I did not see many cases in which post polio was listed as an allegation (i.e. as a medical impairment on a disability application). For this reason, I tend to think that disability examiners, in general, do not have much familiarity with this condition or the implications of it.

Approvals for disability on the basis of post polio can be made via the listings, or through the medical vocational allowance process. In the latter process, the individual's medical history and work history are both evaluated to see if a return to work activity is possible, either a return to one's past work, or a switch to some form of other work.

In this process, the name/diagnosis of a condition is not the overriding concern. The process focuses on evaluating a claimant's functional restrictions. If the determination is made that a claimant's residual functional capacity (what a person can still do despite their physical or mental limitations) eliminates the ability to return to past work, then the next step in the disability evaluation process is to determine whether or not the claimant can perform some other type of work.

'Other work', however, does not include every type of work. Obviously, this would be unfair to individuals whose work skills are not transferable to other types of work, as well as unfair to individuals with limited education, who are significantly older, or have significant physical or mental limitations. With these factors in mind, whether or not a claimant can 'be sent to other work' will depend on the following criteria: a claimant's age, a claimant's level of education, a claimant's job skills, and a claimant's functional capacity (as determined by an evaluation of a claimant's medical records).

Being approved for Post Polio through a listing

According to the Social Security Administration in its evaluation of postpolio published in the POMS, or program operations manual system, "Postpolio sequelae" may be the basis for a finding of 'disability. According to the POMS, the most common residual effect of this infection is motor weakness as demonstrated by 1. observable weakness, 2. muscle atrophy, and reduced peripheral reflexes. As POMS states, "These obvious clinical findings are used to document the history of poliomyelitis".

For this reason, the section of the SSA listings that applies to a listing-level evaluation of Postpolio is listing 11.11 which may be met if the medical evidence so provides.

Listing 11.11, Anterior Poliomyelitis, reads as follows:

11.11 Anterior poliomyelitis. With:

A. Persistent difficulty with swallowing or breathing; or

B. Unintelligible speech; or

C. Disorganization of motor function as described in 11.04B.

The 11.04 criteria mentioned in item C is the listing for CVAs (cerebrovascular accidents), otherwise known as strokes. That listing reads as follows:

11.04 Central nervous system vascular accident. With one of the following more than 3 months post-vascular accident:

A. Sensory or motor aphasia resulting in ineffective speech or communication; or

B. Significant and persistent disorganization of motor function in two extremities, resulting in sustained disturbance of gross and dexterous movements, or gait and station

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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