Applying for disability with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, CFS
Basic requirements for disability claims
The definition of disability for Social Security purposes has two main requirements. The first requirement is that you cannot be working and earning over the SGA limit for twelve months or that you expect to be unable to work for twelve months due to your disabling condition.
If you are working and earning over the SGA limit, your disability claim will be technically denied without being set for a medical determination. If your condition is not expected to prevent you from being able to perform SGA-level work activity for twelve months or more, it is likely your disability claim will be denied for duration.
However, you should file your disability claim anyway as there usually is no guarantee that you will be back to work within twelve months.
The second requirement of Social Security Disability is that you must have a severe medically determinable impairment. This means you must have objective medical evidence from acceptable medical sources (i.e. physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other medical professionals). Social Security does not consider chiropractors to be acceptable medical sources.
Social Security Disability examiners use the criteria outlined in impairment listings in the disability guidebook titled "Disability Evaluation Under Social Security" or the blue book as it is more commonly known. This book contains impairment listings that cover all body systems. Each impairment listing provides the medical criteria needed to meet or equal the severity requirements of Social Security Disability and SSI disability.
Filing for disability with Chronic Fatigue
Unfortunately, there is no specific listing that provides criteria for the evaluation of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, although this does not mean disability examiners have no way to evaluate CFS. They will compare the specific findings in your disability case to any pertinent listing.
For example, a disability examiner might use the criteria in listing 14.06 B (Undifferentiated and mixed connective tissue disease) to equal severity requirements. This impairment listing states you must have at least two of the following four constitutional symptoms or signs: severe fatigue, fever, malaise, or involuntary weight loss along with one of the following three limitations at a severe or marked level: limitation of daily living, maintaining social functioning, or completing tasks in a timely manner due to problems with concentration, persistence, or pace.
Social Security must also consider other mental impairment listings when a person has psychological manifestations related to CFS. The same is true for individuals who are filing for disability with physical manifestations related to their chronic fatigue syndrome.
Even if the disability examiner cannot find an equivalent within the impairment listings, you may be able to be approved for disability benefits if your chronic fatigue syndrome causes symptoms or manifestations that are so severe that they cause extreme limitations in your functional ability.
Social Security Disability is based upon functional ability rather than specific impairments, therefore you may be found disabled if you are not able to perform any of your past work or any other work when your age, education, job skills, and residual functional capability are considered.
More about the condition
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is still quite misunderstood and has been the center of much debate. The disorder has no known causes, though it has some hypothetical causes, no definite tests to prove its validity and no known cures, though some treatments may help the disorder. Even the name of the disorder has caused much debate.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a complex disorder that is has many signs and symptoms; the most common symptom being extreme fatigue for no reason that is not improved by rest and may get worse with light physical or mental activity. Other symptoms usually accompany chronic fatigue syndrome, such as muscle pain, insomnia or restless sleep, weakness, impaired memory and impaired concentration. Chronic fatigue syndrome usually must be present for at least six months before it is diagnosed and can last for years. When diagnosing chronic fatigue syndrome the first thing a doctor must do is rule out other conditions since it is very similar to major depressive disorder, fibromyalgia, bipolar affective disorders, multiple chemical sensitivities and many other conditions.
Over one million people in the United States have been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. It is most common in people aged 40 to 60, though other ages are susceptible to the disorder, and affects women four times more often than men. Some people are debilitated by the disorder and others are able to live productive lives. It has been reported that only 5 to 10 percent of sufferers are completely cured.
Treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome is usually intended to provide relief for symptoms individually, since there is no known cure. Drug therapies such as pain medication and sleep medication have been used to treat the disorder, as well as physical therapies, cognitive behavioral therapies and alternative and complimentary therapies. Lifestyle modifications such as a healthy diet, light exercise such as gentle yoga and plenty of rest have also proven helpful.
There is a known pattern that the disorder usually begins with 'flu-like' symptoms that do not go away and it is usually accompanied by a period of great stress in one's life. When patients fall ill they think it will pass and was perhaps due to stress, but the disorder does not leave like a typical flu. There are cases of gradual onset, but they are reported less often.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is not thought to be contagious or to cause early death.
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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