Facts about Schizophrenia 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. Schizophrenia refers to a group of psychiatric disorders that cause abnormal thought and emotional processes in the brain. This usually results in hallucinations and delusions as well as disorganized thinking and anti-social behavior.
2. Schizophrenia usually develops in the late teens and early 20s in men, and in the 20s or early 30s in women. Children usually do not have symptoms, and those over 40 rarely develop symptoms if none have been present previously.
3. Schizophrenia appears to be hereditary with environmental factors playing a role in development of the condition. Those with schizophrenia appear to have differences in their brain structure, brain chemicals, and central nervous system.
4. In addition to having members of the family with schizophrenia, environmental triggers seem to include having parents that are older at birth, stressful life circumstances, use of hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD, and malnutrition or exposure to toxins in the womb.
5. There are three main types of symptoms, categorized as positive, negative and cognitive. A fourth type is affective, referring to abnormalities in mood, such as depression or mania.
6. Positive symptoms refers to characteristics that are not present in those with normal brain function. This includes delusions, hallucinations, thought and behavior disorder. Disordered thinking typically presents as trouble communicating thought through speech, leading to stringing together meaningless words or stopping in the middle of a sentence.
7. Negative symptoms are those that are typically present in those with normal function, but may be lacking in an individual with schizophrenia. This includes a lack of emotion, personal hygiene, social skills, motivation and interest in daily events, as well as difficulty making and carrying out plans.
8. Cognitive symptoms are those that show abnormal or deficient thought processing, especially with comprehension, attention, and memory.
9. Those with schizophrenia are likely to be unemployed and therefore in poverty. They are also likely to abuse alcohol and drugs, commit suicide and inflict injury to themselves or others. For reasons including these, schizophrenia patients need to be receiving treatment and have a caregiver.
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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