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Social Security Disability Benefits For Schizoaffective Disorder/Schizophrenia
I have been diagnosed with schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder. Can I get Social Security disability benefits (SSD/SSDI), Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB), or Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI)?
For your Social Security disability claim, receiving a diagnosis of schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder is just the start of a process. The main focus is usually on the symptoms you experience from schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder, and how those symptoms affect your ability to engage in physical and mental work-related activities eight (8) hours per day, five (5) days per week (full-time).
Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness involving psychotic symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations. These interfere with one’s ability to think clearly, stay in touch with reality, and relate to others. Aside from the psychotic symptoms, schizophrenia may also show in movement disorders, changes in speaking, attention and memory difficulties, and a “flat affect” or a reduced showing of emotions.
On the other hand, schizoaffective disorder is a mental illness where a person has a combination of schizophrenia symptoms and mood disorder symptoms. The mood disorder can either be depression or bipolar disorder.
Symptoms of schizoaffective disorder depend on the type. Depressive type combines hallucination and delusions with episodes of feeling sad or worthlessness. Bipolar type combines hallucination and delusions with alternating episodes of depression and manic moods.
Can you get a disability check if you have schizophrenia?
Both schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder belong to the schizophrenia spectrum/psychotic disorders category of disability. The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a 5-step process to decide if you are disabled.
Step 1. Are you working?
Firstly, 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 if your earnings are less than SGA, the process proceeds to Step 2 where your schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder is assessed.
Step 2. Is your medical condition “severe”?
The SSA wants to be sure that your medical condition significantly limits 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.
For the SSA to find you 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, your evaluation goes to the third step.
Step 3. Does your medical condition 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 schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder can be found here.
If none of your impairment meets or equals one of the listings, or if the duration requirement is not met, the SSA looks into what you’re capable of doing despite your impairments. This is your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC).
To determine your RFC, the SSA will do 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 from your medically determinable impairments.
Step 4. Can you do any of the jobs you have performed in the past fifteen (15) years?
Here, 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 the SSA decides you cannot perform your past relevant work, or you have not worked in the past fifteen (15) years, SSA goes on to Step 5.
Here at Step 4, you are required to present evidence – in other words, you have the “burden of proof”. 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.
Do schizophrenics qualify for disability?
Some types of objective medical evidence that can support a claim for disability based upon schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder include:
- Medical history
- Records of mental status examination
- Records of psychological testing
- Records of hospitalizations and treatment
Doctors and professionals who specialize in treating schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder include:
- Psychiatrists – medical doctors who can both prescribe medication and offer psychotherapy
- Psychologists – doctors whose main focus is psychotherapy or talk therapy
- Psychoanalysts – psychiatrists and psychologists who are more specifically trained in a particular form of psychotherapy called psychoanalysis
- Social workers, therapists, and counselors – non-doctor but trained professionals who provide talk therapy.
It is crucial to consult with a specialized mental health professional for your schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder, instead of only treating with your family doctor or primary care doctor. If you are not consulting a specialist, the SSA may believe that your condition is not that serious. An experienced Social Security disability lawyer can help you locate sources of treatment (even if you don’t have health insurance).
Step 5. Can you do any other type of work?
At this step, the “burden of proof” shifts to the SSA. If you cannot do your past relevant work, 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
Schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder can extremely restrict your ability to work and to live your life in general. You may truly deserve assistance, so don’t let the strict SSA process discourage you. With our help from the Gillette Law Group, you can make your Social Security disability application much more effective. We have helped numerous applicants like you strengthen their claims, and we can do this for you, too.
Please do not hesitate to contact us for whatever concern you have regarding your application. Your consultation with us is free. Talk to us today at (855) 873-2604.