Facts about Optic Neuritis 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) Your optic nerve, which is considered part of the central nervous system, conveys images from your retina to your brain. When the optic nerve becomes inflamed, it is known as optic neuritis.
2) Optic neuritis is linked to many autoimmune disorders and diseases, including multiple sclerosis and neuromyelitis optica. It can also be caused by certain drugs, tumors, toxins, diabetes, bacterial infections, nutritional deficiencies, and cranial arteritis. Another cause which is very rare is radiation therapy administered to the head.
3) Symptoms of optic neuritis may include pain with eye movement, change in color perception, and visual loss which is most often temporary, but may become permanent. Although it usually only affects one eye, it may also occur in both eyes at the same time.
4) Certain genetic mutations increase the risk of the disease.
5) Women are more likely to develop optic neuritis than men, and white people are more likely to develop the disease, as opposed to other races.
6) The median age for developing optic neuritis is around 30 years old, and it most often occurs in middle-aged adults between the ages of 20 and 45 years old, though it can occur at any age.
7) Most cases of optic neuritis are healed within six months and most of the visual issues from the condition are resolved, though it may cause complications, such as permanent decreased visual acuity and permanent optic nerve damage
8) Opthalmoscopy and pupillary light reaction tests are most commonly used to diagnose optic neuritis, though sometimes doctors will also use blood tests, magnetic resonance imagine scan (MRI scan), or visually evoked potentials test.
9) Treatment for optic neuritis depends upon the case. Some cases get better on their own, while more severe cases need oral or intravenous steroids. If steroids do not help the situation, plasma exchange therapy may be used.
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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