Facts about Schizoaffective Disorder 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. Schizoaffective disorder involves symptoms of schizophrenia combined with symptoms of mood disorder.
2. This condition is not considered a distinct disorder by everyone, as some medical professionals feel that it is schizophrenia first and foremost, with some mood problems.
3. When considered and treated as a distinct condition, those with schizoaffective disorder are given a better prognosis than those with schizophrenia and a worse prognosis than those with a mood disorder.
4. Schizoaffective disorder can cause a wide variation of combination symptoms. Most commonly, schizoaffective disorder results in the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia and either depression or mania associated with mood disorder.
5. Those with schizoaffective disorder tend to have very limited or poor social skills, lack of interest in maintaining personal cleanliness, and are often estranged by their peers.
6. Symptoms from the schizophrenic side of schizoaffective disorder may include paranoia, hallucinations (particularly hearing voices), delusions, confused and unusual thoughts, loss of attention and memory, speech that does not make sense, and lack of response combined with severe agitation (catatonic).
7. Symptoms associated with mood disorder that may appear in schizoaffective disorder include periods of depression, thoughts of suicide, irritability, mania, energy and appetite changes as well as sleep problems.
8. Schizoaffective disorder, like other psychological disorders, is largely hereditary, although environmental factors likely play a part in developing the condition. Individuals who have relatives with schizophrenia, mood disorder, or schizoaffective disorder are at a higher risk for developing schizoaffective disorder themselves.
9. Treatment for schizoaffective disorder is typically approached by a combination of medication and therapy. Medications target symptoms of psychosis, depression and mania. Therapy techniques include family and group talk therapy, individual counseling, and psychotherapy, including behavior modification, to help develop skills for coping and social situations.
10. Prognosis depends on the individual and severity of symptoms. Some people with schizoaffective disorder may be able to work and live independently if given proper treatment, while others will be more limited and may need constant care.
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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