Social Security Disability Following a Stroke

October 10,2016
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If you have suffered a stroke and the consequences are so severe that you are unable to work, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits.  A stroke is a type of traumatic brain injury or TBI.  The event can leave you with devastating conditions that may seem impossible to overcome.  The symptoms are recognizable.  One side of your face may droop.  Your mouth may droop on one side and your speech may be slurred.  Arms and /or legs on one side may be partially or fully paralyzed.  The symptoms can be permanent or there can be partial or complete recovery.

What It Takes to Qualify

To qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you must be able to prove that you are unable to participate in substantial gainful activity because you suffer from a physical or mental impairment, or a combination of impairments, that is expected to result in death or has lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months.

The Duration Requirement

Under the Social Security Administration’s qualifying rule, one of the first things that must be determined is how long the symptoms of the stroke are likely to last.  They must have lasted, or be expected to last 12 months.  This can be impossible to predict early on in the case of a stroke, or any other traumatic brain injury (TBI.)  The SSA will need to decide what symptoms or limitations were caused by the stroke and, if a year hasn’t passed since your stroke, also predict the length of time the symptoms are likely to last.

Qualifying Because of Medical Findings under the Listings

The Social Security Administration refers to a stroke as a “central nervous system vascular accident” or CVA.  It is one of the types of traumatic brain injury included in the Listing of Impairments that the Social Security Administration considers severe enough to create an assumption of disability.  To qualify for the assumption of disability, the stroke must result in the symptoms listed in the SSA’s description of a CVA.

What injury or impairment does Social Security look for as limitations that qualify you for disability if you have had a stroke?  Under the Listing of Impairments, the injury to your brain must have caused either aphasia, which is impairment of your ability to speak, write, or understand language, or have resulted in the total or partial loss of the use of at least two of your extremities.  This can be any combination of arms, hands, legs, or feet.  Because of the difficulty in determining the severity and permanency of neurological injuries, both aphasia and loss of use of the extremities must exist for more than three months following the accident before the assumption of disability will apply.

The Social Security Administration defines the loss of use of the extremities as “significant and persistent disorganization of motor function in two extremities, resulting in sustained disturbance of gross and dexterous movements, or gait and station.”  In other words, loss of use of extremities requires weakness or total paralysis in large muscles used for pushing, pulling, lifting, or carrying, or similar limitations in muscles necessary for fine motor skills such as writing, typing, or other use of the fingers.

If your medical records establish that your symptoms are equal to the requirements listed for strokes, then you may qualify for disability.

Qualifying Because of Functional Limitations

You may qualify for Social Security disability even if your medical records do not clearly establish that you meet the specifications listed for a central nervous system vascular accident or a stroke.  Looking back at the qualifying rule, you can see that the key language is your inability to engage in substantial gainful activity.

To determine what type of gainful activity you can do, the Social Security Administration assesses your residual functional capacity (RFC). The SSA defines your RFC as the most you can still do despite the limitations of your impairment or condition.  To make a final decision on your application for benefits, the SSA will determine if your impairment prohibits you from performing your past work or any other suitable work that exists in the economy. Your condition or impairment and any related symptoms such as pain or muscle weakness may cause physical limitations that affect what you are able to do in a work setting.  Since age can affect you ability to adapt to or perform new tasks, consideration can be given to your age as well as your education and work history.  The older you are and the more physically demanding the tasks required for your past work, the better the chances that you will be found disabled using the SSA’s Medical-Vocational Guidelines.

Tips for Success

Accurate and complete records medical records are essential to win your case.

  1. Visit your doctor regularly and follow his or her treatment recommendations.
  2. At each doctor’s visit, fully explain how your condition is affecting your ability to function. Be very specific.  Are you able to concentrate on the task at hand?  Do you have trouble communicating?  If you have memory loss, describe this to the doctor.  How far can you walk?  How long can you sit and stand?  Can you pick up and manipulate small objects with your hands and fingers? Do you get upset with family, friends, or acquaintances for little or no reason?
  3. Have a family member or friend accompany you and describe your limitations to the doctor.
  4. Tell the doctor how your medication is affecting you. Does it make you sleepy, irritable, or nauseous?
  5. Let your doctor know the efforts that you have been making to get back to where you were before the injury.

Competent legal assistance will substantially increase your chances.

  1. If you applied for disability on your own and have been turned down, you should continue your medical treatment and get legal advice about how to file for reconsideration.
  2. If you have requested reconsideration on your own and have been turned down, get legal advice about how to ask for a hearing before an administrative law Judge.

The required “findings” for a stroke or central nervous system vascular accident make it important that you or your representative understand what is required to meet the definitions of the SSA.  The attorneys at the Herman Law Group have many years of experience in Social Security Disability cases.  We can make sure that the necessary information is in your file and that it is presented in the manner most likely to result in a favorable decision. Call us at 914-286-3030 to schedule a consultation.