Facts about Macular Degeneration and Filing for Disability

These selected pages answer some of the most basic, but also some of the most important, questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim for disability benefits.

  • Filing for disability benefits

  • Blind in one eye and a Learning Disability, Do I have a Case?

  • How to qualify for disability

  • Receiving Social Security Disability benefits if you are blind

  • Qualifications Criteria for SSD and SSI

  • Legally blind with retinitis pigmentosa, can I also file for disability?

  • How to win your disability benefits

  • Getting approved for disability based on being blind

  • Facts about the condition

    1) Macular degeneration is an eye disease that is caused by deterioration due to damage in the retina caused by aging. It most often affects those who are over the age of 50. It is the leading cause of vision loss in the United States for those over 60.

    2) Although this eye disease doesn't cause blindness, the disease does affect central vision and causes blind spots and blurring that make it difficult to perform daily activities.

    3) Macular degeneration comes in two forms ' dry and wet. The dry form is called central geographic atrophy, and the wet form is called neovascular or exudative. The dry form causes retinal atrophy and the wet form causes blood and proteins to leak from the blood vessels.

    4) Vision changes due to macular degeneration may include difficulty recognizing and reading faces, blurriness, distorted vision, decrease in colors, druse, trouble adapting to low lights, and a need for bright lights.

    5) Some people experience hallucinations due to damaged vision. This is called Charles Bonnet syndrome and is not related to mental illness.

    6) Though mostly caused by natural aging, macular degeneration is more common in those who smoke, have a family history of the disease, are obese, have light colored eyes, and those who have cardiovascular diseases. It is more common in women than men, and tends to be more common in Caucasians.

    7) Wet macular degeneration is more severe than the dry form of the disease. Dry macular degeneration is most commonly treated with high doses of zinc, vitamin C and antioxidants, while the wet form of the disease is usually treated with laser therapy, photodynamic therapy, implanted optic devices, vascular endothelial growth factor antagonists, and macular translocation surgery.

    8) In some cases, macular degeneration can lead to the patient becoming legally blind.

    Qualifying for disability benefits with this condition

    Whether or not you qualify for disability and, as a result, are approved for disability benefits will depend entirely on the information obtained from your medical records.

    This includes whatever statements and treatment notes that may have been obtained from your treating physician (a doctor who has a history of treating your condition and is, therefore, qualified to comment as to your condition and prognosis). It also includes discharge summaries from hospital stays, reports of imaging studies (such as xrays, MRIs, and CT scans) and lab panels (i.e. bloodwork) as well as reports from physical therapy.

    In many disability claims, it may also include the results of a report issued by an independent physician who examines you at the request of the Social Security Administration.

    Qualifying for SSD or SSI benefits will also depend on the information obtained from your vocational, or work, history if you are an adult, or academic records if you are a minor-age child. In the case of adults, your work history information will allow a disability examiner (examiners make decisions at the initial claim and reconsideration appeal levels, but not at the hearing level where a judges decides the outcome of the case) to A) classify your past work, B) determine the physical and mental demands of your past work, C) decide if you can go back to a past job, and D) whether or not you have the ability to switch to some type of other work.

    The important thing to keep in mind is that the social security administration does not award benefits based on simply having a condition, but, instead, will base an approval or denial on the extent to which a condition causes functional limitations. Functional limitations can be great enough to make work activity not possible (or, for a child, make it impossible to engage in age-appropriate activities).

    Why are so many disability cases lost at the disability application and reconsideration appeal levels?

    There are several reasons but here are just two:

    1) Social Security makes no attempt to obtain a statement from a claimant's treating physician. By contrast, at the hearing level, a claimant's disability attorney or disability representative will generally obtain and present this type of statement to a judge.

    Note: it is not enough for a doctor to simply state that their patient is disabled. To satisy Social Security's requirements, the physician must list in what ways and to what extent the individual is functionally limited. For this reason, many representatives and attorneys request that the physician fill out and sign a specialized medical source statement that captures the correct information. Solid Supporting statements from physicians easily make the difference between winning or losing a disability case at the hearing level.

    2) Prior to the hearing level, a claimant will not have the opportunity to explain how their condition limits them, nor will their attorney or representative have the opportunity to make a presentation based on the evidence of the case. This is because at the initial levels of the disability system, a disability examiner decides the case without meeting the claimant. The examiner may contact the claimant to gather information on activities of daily living and with regard to medical treatment or past jobs, but usually nothing more. At the hearing level, however, presenting an argument for approval based on medical evidence that has been obtained and submitted is exactly what happens.

    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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