Do I Qualify For Social Security Disability Benefits If I Have Ataxia?
The Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn’t always make it easy for those with ataxia to get the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income benefits they deserve. Many claims are denied because SSA says:
(1) Your medical condition doesn’t meet the requirements of or is the equivalent of a Medical Listing,
(2) You can return to the lightest job you held in the 15 years before you became disabled, or
(3) There is other work you can do in the mythical national economy based on your age, education, transferable skills and your residual functional capacity.
Not all cases of ataxia are severe enough to make you eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, but Nancy Cavey has successfully represented many SSA applicants with ataxia. She works to overcome the claims denial by working closely with you and your physician to show that you:
- Qualify for the Compassionate Allowances program,
- Meet the requirements for a disability listing for ataxia, or that
- Your limitations are too great for you to work at your old job or any other job in the national economy in view of your age, education and transferable work skills.
She offers a free initial consultation and welcomes the opportunity to speak with you about your Social Security disability claim.
What Is Ataxia?
Ataxia is a lack of muscle coordination during voluntary movements like walking, speaking and swallowing. Ataxia results from damage to your cerebellum, which controls muscle coordination.
The most common type of ataxia is caused by trauma or a head injury, including a stroke, tumor, transient ischemic attack (TIA), cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis or an infection of the brain.
What Are The Symptoms of Ataxia?
The hallmark symptom of ataxia is poor coordination walking and using your trunk and arms. As the disease progresses, muscles weaken and waste away which, in turn, can cause deformities in the feet, legs and hands.
Other symptoms can include:
- Loss of balance;
- A tendency to stumble or have an unsteady gait;
- Slow and slurred speech known as dysarthria;
- Loss of muscle coordination in the legs, arms and hands;
- Problems with fine motor skills, including eating, writing or tying shoes;
- Fatigue; and
- Rapid and involuntary eye movements, known as nystagmus.
When Your Ataxia Meets A Listing
Some forms of ataxia, like ataxia telangiectasia, is one of the 88 medical conditions that qualify for faster disability approvals under the Compassionate Allowances program.
There is no per se listing for ataxia under the Section 11 Neurological of the SSA’s “Listing of Impairments.” Ataxia is a symptom of neurological conditions that do have listings:
- Section 11.04 Central nervous system vascular accident,
- Section 11.05 Brain tumors,
- Section 11.06 Parkinsonian Syndrome,
- Section 11.08 Spinal cord or nerve root lesions, due to any cause,
- Section 11.09 Multiple Sclerosis,
- Section 11.17 Degenerative disease not listed elsewhere, such as Huntington’s, Friedreich’s ataxia and spino cerebellar degeneration, and
- Section 11.18 Cerebral trauma.
The ataxia will be considered in the context of one of the listings. If your medical condition meets or is the equivalent of a Listing, your Social Security disability benefits will be awarded at Step 3 of the Five-Step Sequential Evaluation.
Your medical records must establish that you meet every element of the Listing for your ataxia to be considered disabling. SSA will review your medical records and look for the following:
- A specific diagnosis covered by Section 11,
- A history of your symptoms,
- Neurological findings on physical examination that are consistent with a Section 11 diagnosis, and
- Results of appropriate testing.
If you don’t meet or equal a listing, SSA then will determine your entitlement to benefits based on medical and vocational criteria at Steps 4 and 5.
When Your Ataxia Makes It Impossible to Work
If your ataxia doesn’t meet a listing, you will have to prove that you:
- Can’t return to the lightest job you held in the 15 years before you became disabled (PRW), and
- There isn’t any other work you can do in the mythical national economy based on your age, education, transferable skills and your residual functional capacity (RFC).
SSA or, ultimately an Administrative Law Judge, will answer those questions by determining your residual functional capacity. Your RFC is what you can do despite your ataxia.
Residual Functional Capacity For Ataxia
The SSA will review your medical records at the Initial Application and Reconsideration stage of the claims process and determine your functional capacity to perform sedentary, light, medium and heavy work.
SSA medical consultants often opine that a Social Security Disability applicant can do light and sedentary work, and that will result in a claims denial. The lower your RFC the more likely that you can’t return to the lightest job you held in the last 15 years or perform other work. SSA doesn’t tell applicants or physicians about the existence and importance of properly completed RFC forms that will explain:
- How far you can walk,
- How long you can stand and sit at one time and for an eight-hour day,
- How much and how often you can lift, stoop, squat, bend during an eight-hour day,
- Whether you have to alternate sitting and standing,
- What difficulties you have with your hands and fingers,
- Whether you have good days and bad days and how many days per month you would miss from work, and
- Whether you have psychological problems that would interfere with your ability to work.
This is not an exhaustive list of all of the questions on an ataxia RFC form. But you can see that having an explanation of what you can do physically, cognitively and emotionally is key to winning your case.
Many SSA cases are lost because the applicant did not obtain an RFC or the right RFC form, or because their treating physician didn’t properly complete the RFC form. That is one of the many reasons you should have an experienced Social Security attorney like Nancy L. Cavey represent you in your claim.
How Your Residual Functional Capacity Is Used At A Social Security Hearing
Many claims are denied both at the Initial Application and Request For Reconsideration stages of the claims process.
At the hearing stage, the Administrative Law Judge will determine your RFC and give hypotheticals to the vocational evaluator (VE) who will testify at your hearing. The judge will ask the VE to take into consideration your RFC, as determined by the judge, your age, education and prior work experience in determining:
- Whether you can return to the lightest job you held in the last 15 years,
- Whether there is other work you can do or could learn to do.
It is crucial that you are represented at a hearing to make sure the right questions are asked of the VE.
How Do I Get The Social Security Disability Benefits I Deserve?
Ataxia can interfere not only with your daily activities but with your ability to work. If you no longer can work or your doctor has told you to apply for Social Security disability, you should hire Nancy Cavey to help you:
- File your initial Social Security Disability application. The process is confusing and designed so you make mistakes that can result in a delay or even a denial of your benefits.
- Appeal a wrongful denial of your Social Security disability application or Request for Reconsideration.
- File an Application for Hearing and represent you at the hearing with the Administrative Law Judge who will decide if you get benefits. She will have your physician, if possible, complete the right RFC(s), prepare you for the hearing, prepare a hearing brief, and be prepared to cross-examine the VE.
The SSA is in the business of denying claims and will use any reason to deny your benefits. The odds of getting your Social Security benefits are greater when you are represented by an experienced Social Security Disability attorney like Ms. Cavey.
Contact Social Security Disability Attorney Nancy L. Cavey, Who Can Help You Regardless of Where You Live in Florida
Ataxia can make it difficult, if not impossible, to work. You owe it to yourself and your family to get help today. Ms. Cavey can explain the Five-Step Sequential Evaluation process used in every claim, the claims process and how to get your disability benefits. Call today for a free consultation at 727-894-3188.