Facts about Panic Attacks 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. Although most people think that panic attacks are simply due to stress or frazzled nerves, they are an actual medical condition that responds to various treatments.
2. It is not known exactly what causes our bodies to go into panic mode, though stress, genetics, and changes in brain functioning are thought to be potential causes.
3. Panic attacks can happen randomly; you don't need to be feeling stressed about anything in particular, or having any particular fearful thought or experience to have a panic attack. There is usually no apparent reason for a panic attack.
4. A panic attack is basically the same body reaction that you would have if being chased by someone trying to kill you (a robber or a bear), though the difference is that no outside sources have caused this sudden panic attack.
5. Panic attacks can happen once or twice in a lifetime, or be recurrent and often. If they happen frequently you may have panic disorder. No one knows exactly how many people suffer from panic attacks, though it is estimated that somewhere between 3-6 million Americans suffer from panic disorder.
6. Symptoms of a panic attack include: chest pain, increased heart rate, trembling, chills, sweating, hot flashes, strong sense of impending doom or fear of dying, dizziness, hyperventilation, and problems swallowing or breathing.
7. Panic attacks happen suddenly and normally last for about 30 minutes, with the peak happening at about ten minutes into the attack. Sometimes they may last much longer, such as several hours or a full day.
8. It is believed that the risk of panic attacks is increased by a family history of panic attacks, serious childhood trauma, traumatic life events (rape, car accident, robbery, etc.) or significant life changes such as moving, losing a loved one, or having a baby. Panic attacks may also be caused be severe life stress.
9. Treatment may involve medications such as various antidepressants and sedatives, and psychotherapy (usually cognitive behavioral therapy). Lifestyle choices may also help, such as eliminating caffeine and all drugs, exercising, getting adequate rest, and doing yoga, meditation and guided imagery.
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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