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Social Security Disability Benefits For Degenerative Disc Disease
I have been diagnosed with degenerative disk disease. Can I get Social Security disability benefits (SSI/SSDI), Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB), or Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI)?
Having a diagnosis of degenerative disc disease is just the start. A Social Security disability claim typically focuses on the symptoms you experience from degenerative disk disease and how those symptoms affect your ability to engage in physical and mental work activities full time – eight (8) hours per day, five (5) days per week.
Spinal discs are like small cushions between each bone of the human spine, allowing our back to be flexible. As we grow older, it is normal for spinal disks to degenerate due to wear and tear. But if this degeneration causes you pain, it may be considered degenerative disc disease.
Can you get disability for a bad back?
While back pain is the main symptom of degenerative disk disease, the location of the pain may vary depending on where the impaired disc is. The pain may reach the neck, lower back, buttocks, or even thighs. It may come and go, and feel worse when you bend, twist, or sit. In more severe cases, the damage may affect surrounding nerves, causing weakness, tingling, or numbness in the arms and legs.
Is degenerative disc disease disabling you? The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a 5-step process to decide if you are disabled.
Step 1. Do you have a Substantial Gainful Activity?
First, the SSA considers your work activity. If you are engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) you will not be found disabled. The amount you must earn to be working at SGA changes each year. For 2018 it is $1,180 per month if you are not blind and $1,970 per month if you are blind. If you are working, and your earnings average more than the SGA limit, then you will not be found disabled. If you are not working, or your earnings are less than SGA, the process proceeds to Step 2 where your degenerative disk disease and any other physical or mental conditions are considered.
Step 2. Can your medical condition be considered “severe”?
For the SSA to determine that you are disabled, your medical condition must significantly limit your ability to do basic work activities such as sitting; standing; walking; lifting; carrying; understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple instructions; making simple work-related decisions; responding appropriately to supervision, co-workers, and work stress; and dealing with changes in a routine work setting.
Can I Get Disability Benefits for Degenerative Disc Disease?
To be found disabled, you must have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment (or a combination of impairments) that is severe and has lasted or is expected last one (1) year or end in death. If your medical condition is not that severe, you will not be found to meet the requirements for Social Security disability benefits. If your condition is that severe, the SSA goes to Step 3.
Step 3. Does your disease meet or equal the severity of a Listing?
The SSA maintains a listing of medical criteria that are considered to be so severe that you will be found disabled if your medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) matches them. The Adult Listing for degenerative disk disease can be found here.
If you do not have an impairment that meets or equals one of the listings or the duration requirement is not met, SSA determines your Residual Functional Capacity – that is, what you’re capable of doing despite your impairments – and will proceed to Step 4.
RFC is a function-by-function assessment of your maximum ability to do sustained work-related physical and mental activities on a regular and continuing basis (8 hours a day, for 5 days a week) despite the limitations and restrictions resulting from your medically determinable impairments. In short, it is an evaluation of your capacity for full-time work.
Step 4. Are you still able to do any job you’ve had in the past fifteen (15) years?
At this step, the SSA decides if your medical condition prevents you from being able to work full-time at jobs you have done in the past fifteen (15) years. If the SSA decides you can perform any of your past relevant work (PRW), you will be found not disabled. To be PRW, the work must have been substantial gainful activity (SGA); performed in the fifteen (15) year relevant period; and performed long enough to learn the job. If SSA decides you cannot perform your past relevant work, or you have not worked in the past fifteen (15) years, the SSA goes on to Step 5.
You have the burden of proof at Step 4. Two of the strongest types of evidence at this stage are medical records and the opinions of the doctors who are treating you for the conditions that are affecting your ability to work. The strongest medical evidence is what is known as objective medical evidence, or evidence that does not rely upon what you tell your doctors. The strongest opinions are opinions that are offered by doctors who specialize in the condition that is keeping you from working and which are supported by objective medical evidence.
Is a Degenerative Disc Considered a Disability?
Some types of objective medical evidence that can support a claim for disability based upon degenerative disk disease include:
- General clinical records
- Documentation of medically prescribed treatment and response
- Imaging results (MRI, CT scan, or x-ray)
- Results from blood tests
- Clinical notes of specialists, such as those describing decreased range of motion and reduced muscular strength
Doctors who specialize in treating degenerative disc disease include:
- Orthopedists – These doctors focus on the diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of the musculoskeletal system (bones, muscles, nerves, joints, tendons, ligaments, and skin)
- Neurosurgeons – Also known as spine surgeons, they focus on surgical and nonsurgical treatments for the nervous system
- Physiatrists – Also known as Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) physicians, they treat medical conditions of the brain and musculoskeletal system
Note that if you are only treating with your family doctor or primary care doctor, for your degenerative disk disease, the SSA may interpret this as meaning that your condition is not that serious (otherwise you would be treating with a specialist). An experienced Social Security disability lawyer can help you locate sources of treatment (even if you don’t have health insurance).
Step 5. Is there any other type of work you can do?
At Step 5, the “burden of proof” shifts to SSA. If you cannot do your past relevant work, the SSA looks to see if you would be able to do other work. It evaluates your medical condition, your age, education, past work experience, and any skills you may have that could be used to do other work. If you can do other work, the SSA will determine you are not disabled. If you cannot do other work, the SSA will find you disabled.
After age 50, there are special rules that may apply to your claim that can result in a finding of disability even if there is some other work you could perform on a full-time basis. An experienced Social Security disability lawyer will be familiar with these rules and can ensure that they are considered in the evaluation of your case.
Contact Gillette Law Group
The pain you experience from degenerative disc disease can deeply affect your work, your earnings, and your life overall. If you believe you truly need assistance, do not be discouraged by the strict application process for disability benefits. We at the Gillette Law Group can give you get the best chance at the benefits you need and deserve.
Your consultation with us is free, so don’t hesitate to talk to us. Call us today at (855) 873-2604