Social Security Disability and spinal cord injuries

Nurse and doctor examining xrayThe spinal cord carries nerve signals between the brain and body. A spinal cord injury can result in partial or total disruption of these signals, leading to loss of movement or sensation below the level of injury. While some losses are temporary, some spinal cord injury victims suffer permanent, debilitating changes, as many Social Security Disability lawyers Chicago know. Fortunately, Social Security Disability benefits may be available to victims of these disabling injuries.

Establishing disablement

SSD benefits are available to people who have suffered injuries that prevent any form of gainful employment. A medical condition is only considered disabling if it is anticipated to last longer than 12 months or result in mortality. As Social Security Disability lawyers in Chicago can explain, a person may qualify for SSD benefits by meeting the terms of a listing in the Social Security Administration’s “Blue Book” or by qualifying for a medical-vocational allowance.

The Blue Book contains a list of impairments that are automatically considered disabling if certain criteria are met. A spinal cord injury victim may qualify for benefits through the Blue Book in the following ways:

  • Meeting the listing for disorders of the spine — the injury must cause nerve root compression that produces pain, limited motion and muscle weakness associated with sensory or reflex loss. Medical evidence must establish damage to the spinal cord.
  • Meeting the listing for spinal cord lesions — the injury must impair motor function in two extremities, resulting in reduced ability to ambulate or perform fine and gross motor movements.
  • “Equaling” either listing — if a person’s symptoms and functional limitations are different than those listed but equal in overall severity, the person may qualify for benefits under the listing.

Many spinal cord injuries do not meet these specific criteria. Fortunately, as Social Security Disability lawyers in Chicago understand, an injury victim may also receive benefits by proving the injury precludes gainful employment. Spinal cord injuries can cause numerous debilitating effects, including incontinence, respiratory problems, circulatory issues, depression and chronic pain. If these effects impede gainful employment, the person may receive a medical-vocational allowance.

Documenting the injury

Anyone seeking SSD benefits must provide adequate medical documentation to support the claim. Medical imaging can provide objective evidence of an injury, while a treatment record can help establish longevity or a prognosis. Statements from a treating physician can show the severity and functional impacts of an injury.

People who may receive benefits through a medical-vocational allowance should also ask a treating physician to complete a Residual Functional Capacity form. With this form, a physician can describe in detail the physical or mental impairments the condition causes. This information can help the SSA accurately assess whether a person is capable of working.