Do I Qualify For Social Security Disability Benefits If I Have Degenerative Disc Disease?
The Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn’t always make it easy for those with degenerative disc disease to get the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income benefits they deserve. Many claims are denied because SSA says:
(1) Your degenerative disc disease isn’t severe because many people have degenerative disc disease and work or you just have intermittent symptoms,
(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 degenerative disc disease are severe enough to make you eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, but Nancy Cavey has successfully represented many SSA applicants with degenerative disc disease. She works to overcome the claims denial by working closely with you and your physician to show that you:
- Meet the requirements for a disability listing, 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 Are The Causes and Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease?
Your spine is a beautiful piece of architecture. The principal building block is bone, which can have structural problems like degenerative disc disease.
Between the bones of your spine are discs that allow for movement of your spine. The disc is a pad of cartilage or disc that has a tough outer layer called the annulus and a soft inner layer called a nucleus. It is like a jelly-filled lifesaver.
Degenerative means the process of the disc degenerating over time. However, not all degenerative discs progress or are painful.
When a degenerative disc occurs, the disc thickness decreases and can cause rubbing between the discs. It’s like the jelly donut has lost its shape and size.
The common symptoms of a degenerative disc in your low back can include:
- Pain centered in your low back that can radiate to your hips and legs,
- Continuous low back pain of more than six weeks.
- Pain that is aching in nature and made worse when sitting or during prolonged standing,
- Pain that is made worse by bending, twisting or lifting, and
- Numbness and tingling of the legs.
Cervical disc degeneration is not as common because your neck is generally not subjected to torque or force like your low back. However, it is not uncommon in occupations like dentistry, dental hygiene or other occupations that involve repetitive neck motions.
It can lead to spinal stenosis and even a herniated disc.
The common symptoms of a cervical degenerative disc can include:
- Low grade neck pain,
- Stiff or inflexible neck pain, and
- Numbness, tingling and weakness of the neck, arms and shoulders.
Your Medical Records and Degenerative Disc Disease Claims
Your medical records must establish that you are disabled. SSA will review your medical records and look for the following:
- A diagnosis of degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, arachnoiditis, fusion,
- A history of your symptoms, including difficulty walking, sitting or standing,
- Findings on physical examination that are consistent with the diagnosis, including limited range of motion of your spine, reduced muscle strength, muscle spasm, problems walking, nerve root compression, and positive straight leg raising test results,
- Objective testing that shows disc deterioration, such as x-ray reports, CAT scans, and MRI.
Your complaints of pain must be consistent with the physical examination findings and the objective medical testing. After all, anyone can complain of pain and claim they are entitled to Social Security Disability benefits.
The SSA will determine your entitlement to benefits based on medical and vocational criteria at Steps 4 and 5.
When Your Degenerative Disc Disease Makes It Impossible to Work
At Steps 4 and 5 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 degenerative disc disease.
Residual Functional Capacity For Degenerative Disc Disease
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 spine 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,
- 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 a degenerative disc disease 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 For Degenerative Disc Disease?
Degenerative disc disease 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 application 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
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 for your degenerative disc disease. Call today for a free consultation at 727-894-3188.