As a Social Security benefits lawyer arguing claims for clients with multiple sclerosis (MS) at hearings and in federal court, I have experienced some common difficulties with medical evidence in MS cases. Below are some answers to questions my clients have about how Social Security views MS.
Hopefully, my observations may strengthen your claim for disability benefits based on your MS symptoms. Here are the top 6 questions my clients with MS have about Social Security:
1. What are the requirements to be disabled under the Social Security Administration for MS?
The Social Security Administration evaluates MS under listing 11.09. To prove and be successful under the MS Listing, you have to meet 1 of the 3 criteria of the listing. Therefore, do not worry if you do not meet all the criteria of the listing. You only have to meet one. Additionally, just because you do not directly meet one of the three requirements of the MS listing, you may still “equal” one of the three criteria. Equaling one criterion means that your MS symptoms do not meet the criteria directly, but they are close enough.
Please find the MS listing 11.09 (from federal regulations) below:
11.09 Multiple Sclerosis. With:
A. Disorganization of motor function as described in 11.04B;
B. Visual or mental impairment as described under the criteria in 2.02, 2.03, 2.04, or 12.02;
C. Significant, reproducible fatigue of motor function with substantial muscle weakness on repetitive activity, demonstrated on physical examination, resulting from neurological dysfunction in areas of the central nervous system known to be pathologically involved by the multiple sclerosis process.
2. How do I prove “disorganization of motor functions” under “A” of the Multiple Sclerosis listing above?
Your Hoglund Social Security lawyer can explain how Social Security Rulings may allow you to be approved. Your attorney can also tell you how your absenteeism may exceed the vocational expert’s threshold at your hearing.
Generally, proving disorganization of motor functions means showing the Social Security Administration that you are having trouble moving around and/or you are having trouble using your hands and arms. The best ways to document difficulties with motor functions is, as mentioned above, to receive treatment from a neurologist. At your appointment with your neurologist, he or she should conduct a physical exam. This makes sure your records show objective problems (problems that are measureable). Furthermore, you need to thoroughly explain the difficulties you are having with your motor functions with your neurologist. Doctors take notes about what you say, and your doctor cannot document what he or she does not know.
Regardless of any condition you have, it is always important to receive regular medical treatment from your doctor. Every doctor visit you have creates a paper trail for the Social Security Administration to determine if your condition is getting better, staying the same, or getting worse.
3. How can you prove I have a visual or mental impairment under “B” of the MS listing?
Again, please report any complications you are having from your MS with your neurologist. Your neurologist will likely be able to refer you to another doctor that specializes in vision (an ophthalmologist) or mental health practice areas. Your neurologist will likely be able to run tests to determine if you are having any problems with your memory and concentration. Consider receiving treatment from a psychiatrist or psychologist if you have any ongoing concerns about your mental health. An MS diagnosis can be difficult. Psychiatrists and psychologists specialize in diagnosis, documenting, and treating symptoms such as depression and/or anxiety. Proving Criteria B (and any other criteria) for MS is about finding the best available medical treatment and exhausting all your reasonable medical treatment options.
4. How can I prove I have fatigue under “C” of the MS listing?
Fatigue is a complication associated with MS. You may experience fatigue after a short period of exercise or after light household chores. Report any fatigue you are having to your neurologist. Additionally, you can ask your neurologist to conduct test to measure how easily your become fatigued. Your neurologist may be able to conduct a stress test or other tests to document how easily you become fatigued.
Fatigue must be documented and observed by your neurologist to help prove your MS meets the C Criterion of the MS listing. Keeping a daily journal regarding your activity and the fatigue associated with the activity could be helpful to not only lend credible to your Social Security claim, but could also help your neurologist understand and effectively treat your fatigue.
5. What if my MS doesn’t fit the listing criteria?
You can still be approved if your MS affects your ability to keep up with the things you need to do day-to-day. Your doctor can explain how MS can play out differently in different people. In Social Security parlance, you may have difficulties with “persistence and pace.” For the most part, Social Security should consider your ability to function in an 8-hour per day, 5 days per week basis. Symptomatic MS interferes with your ability to work consistently. So, you can be approved for benefits when your lawyer sure to emphasize how unpredictable your collective symptoms are.
6. What if I am still working limited hours with MS?
If you have MS and are still working, hopefully your symptoms allow you to work and do what you need to do day-to-day. It is good, though, to know what to expect if you can no longer work full-time and you are considering benefits. See our Hoglund Law Offices website about Substantial Gainful Activity to understand when your reduced monthly earnings may allow you to apply.
If you do not have a lawyer to help you with your Social Security claim, you should get legal advice about your particular situation. If you need a team of attorneys to help you with getting Social Security benefits, you can reach our law office’s toll-free number at 1-800-850-7867.
Michael Riley, Esq., Hoglund Law Offices
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