Disability

For people with Parkinson’s, time is often one of the most challenging aspects of applying for and awaiting an award of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

Are you working now, but worried about becoming unable to work in the future? Have you already applied for Social Security Disability Benefits? You may have heard stories even warnings that make you hesitant to apply or appeal a previous determination?

If you have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, you may be concerned about continuing to work and make a living for yourself and your family. Because Parkinson’s is a progressive disease, you may find work more challenging as time goes on. Fortunately, there is help available for you. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers financial benefits for people with Parkinson’s who are no longer able to earn income due to the disease.

Parkinson’s disease and the Blue Book

Whenever the SSA receives an application for disability benefits, they will compare your medical records and test results to their own guide known as the Blue Book. The Blue Book lists hundreds of conditions that are potentially disabling, as well as the test results or symptoms you’ll need to be approved for benefits.

Parkinson’s disease is listed under Section 11.06 of the SSA’s Blue Book —Parkinsonian syndrome. To qualify under this listing, you will need to show that you experience at least one of the following symptoms in two extremities:

• Rigidity
• Slowness of movement
• Tremors

These symptoms need to be severe enough to affect one of the following:

• Your ability to perform dexterous movements, such as typing on a computer
• Your ability to walk
• Your ability to stand upright

Keep in mind that even if you experience one of the qualifying factors, a disability examiner does have the right to deny your claim. It’s unlikely, but possible. This could happen if your Parkinson’s affects your ability to walk or stand, but you have a desk job. A disability examiner may argue that you don’t need to walk to keep your job and earn income, so you should not qualify for benefits.

This is why it is vitally important to submit as much medical evidence as possible when applying for benefits. Write down the name of every single doctor who’s familiar with your condition, as well as every hospital where you’ve received treatment.

If you are planning on applying for Social Security disability benefits with Parkinson’s disease, you can either apply entirely online through the SSA’s website, or call the SSA toll free at 1-800-772-1213 to schedule an appointment at your local office.

 

Applying for Disability Benefits Due to a Parkinson’s Disease Diagnosis

Pursuing disability benefits is a cumbersome process, one that more often than not takes considerable time, patience, and persistence. Do your homework! The more you can learn ahead of time about common mistakes, the more likely you are to avoid them and make what can be a frustrating and time-consuming process an easier one.

Submitting the most comprehensive application possible the first time you apply, and doing some financial planning/budgeting before you even begin the process, is advisable. Newly proposed legislation has the potential to reduce the amount of time and/or number of appeals people with Parkinson’s disease typically encounter. For more than 20 years the Social Security Administration’s definition of Parkinson’s disease has included only the primary motor symptoms of the disease. It is, however, the many non-motor symptoms that often cause a person to be unable to work.

PLAN AHEAD

While there are certain aspects of the Social Security application and appeal process over which you have no control (such as your state or jurisdiction’s case backlog), there are others you may well be able to influence to some degree.

WHAT YOU CAN DO ON INITIAL APPLICATION

  • File immediately! There is no need to wait until you have exhausted short-term or long-term disability benefits.
  • Consider hiring an attorney who specializes in disability cases. Usually, no fee s charged unless a case is won.
  • Consult specialists such as movement disorders specialists, psychiatrists, speech and language pathologists, etc.
  • Request a Residual Functional Capacity form from your local Social Security office. It allows your doctor to spell out exactly why your medical problem/symptoms make working at your most recent job, or any former jobs, impossible, and is generally more effective than an independent narrative.
  • Include ALL assessments/reports. Even professionals such as physical therapists, who are not considered “acceptable medical sources” by SSA, may help your case, they just won’t be given as much weight.
  • Submit VERY detailed notes including: frequency, severity, and duration of symptoms, and “functional limitations,” (i.e., difficulty performing activities of daily living at home and at work such as getting out of bed in the morning, getting dressed, using a computer, etc.). Ask for feedback from friends, family, or co-workers and include any symptoms they may have noticed (i.e., speech difficulties, problems focusing, etc.).
  • Do not focus exclusively on physical impairments. Many claims ultimately win approval by demonstrating a combination of both physical and mental impairments. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, consult a psychologist of psychiatrist for an evaluation.
  • File for spousal and/or children’s benefits , if eligible. Visit http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10085.html for more information.
  • Keep copies of everything you send to the Social Security Administration. This is imperative and will help you track the status of your case and replace any lost documentation quickly and easily.
  • Regularly call for case updates. Note that it is the Disability Determination Services (DDS) Examiner who is most likely to know the status of your case. Contact your local Social Security Office for the DDS office phone number.

ON APPEAL

  • Appeal within 60 days of receiving a denial notice. Failure to do so is a common “killer” of disability applications. Appeal online and make the process quicker and easier.
  • File a “Request for Reconsideration,” not a new claim. Although you are not filing a new claim, be sure to update your claim. Submit a new RFC and any new information on your condition, limitations, treatment, etc.
  • Send all written documentation via certified mail.
  • Consider hiring representation, especially if you have been denied benefits previously.

In summary, learn as much as you can about this process before you apply. Doing so may allow you to reduce your wait time and make the transition from work to disability quicker and easier for everyone involved.

Don’t qualify for disability insurance? Apply for an RFC instead.

What if you don’t meet the SSA’s medical guidelines? You can still qualify for disability benefits through what’s known as a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) evaluation.

The basic medical qualification for disability benefits with Parkinson’s disease states that you’ll need to have difficulty with movement in at least two extremities that makes it impossible for you to preform dexterous movement, walk, or stand. But through an RFC, you will need to work with your doctor to prove that your condition makes it impossible for you to do any work you are qualified for.

Let’s say you’re 60 years old and your Parkinson’s severely affects one of your legs, but you can still walk. You may not walk quite as well as most people, but you’re not restricted to a wheelchair. This would likely not qualify medically via the Blue Book, but you could still qualify if you can prove that you cannot work at your current job. This would be possible if you were on your feet all day, such as working construction or retail.

Older applicants also have a much easier time getting approved for Social Security benefits through an RFC because the SSA believes older adults are harder to retrain and thus unable to take an easier desk job.

If you have been diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s disease, however, you may have a more challenging time getting approved. This is especially true if you hold a college degree and you work at a desk job. If you experience a similar situation to the example above where you cannot walk, the SSA will argue that you do not need to walk to earn income at your desk job.

You can download an RFC for your doctor to fill out on your behalf online. Be sure to submit as much medical evidence as possible when applying for disability benefits, especially when you are unable to meet the SSA’s listing for Parkinson’s disease. With strong medical evidence, you could still qualify for disability benefits.

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