Facts about Neuropathy 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.
Facts about the condition
1) Neuropathy refers to damage to the nervous system. The central nervous system includes just the brain and spinal cord; therefore all other nerves are part of the peripheral nervous system.
2) Cranial neuropathy refers the nerves in the head, including the eye (optic neuropathy) and ears (auditory neuropathy). Peripheral neuropathy is more widespread, as it refers to nerve damage in any part of the peripheral nervous system, most commonly affecting extremities, like your hands, legs and feet.
3) Peripheral neuropathy causes sensations of numbness, tingling and pain in the fingers and toes that gets worse over time and can spread all the way up the legs and arms.
4) Neuropathy may also cause problems with coordination, muscle weakness and even paralysis, and difficulty with bodily processes like digestion and excretion. Specific symptoms vary based on the specific affected nerves.
5) This nerve damage can be caused by disease, illness, injury or infection. Trauma or pressure can also cause damage to the nerves involved, such as in the case of a broken leg (trauma) and the time spent in a cast (pressure).
6) Diabetes and autoimmune diseases are a common cause of neuropathy and diabetes in particular often causes damage to a variety of nerves simultaneously. Kidney and liver disease may also cause damage to peripheral nerves.
7) Tumors, particularly those occurring on a nerve, and chemotherapy used to treat cancers can cause neuropathy. Chemotherapy is one of many toxins that may lead to the condition. In addition, alcoholism and vitamin deficiencies can be causes as well.
8) It is important to treat the underlying cause of the neuropathy, which can also sometimes can help lesson symptoms. Traditional pain medications as well as anti-seizure and antidepressant medications are used to help manage pain.
9) Alternative treatments like massage therapy, acupuncture, antioxidants, creams and biofeedback therapy have also helped many patients manage their symptoms.
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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