SSA to Revisit Disability Benefits Criteria for Neurological Disorders

People who suffer from Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy and other severe impairments can experience disabling pain and other symptoms that interfere with their ability to work. Neurological disorders are a distinct form of medical condition recognized by the Social Security Administration (SSA), and qualifying applicants are eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

The SSA recently announced that it will reassess its disability benefits criteria for people who have neurological disorders. The federal agency will be seeking public comment in 2012 based on a Notice of Proposed Rule Making that will outline specific changes to the SSA's Listing of Impairments.

The Listings allow SSA adjudicators to determine if a person has a disability based on medical criteria only, leaving aside considerations about the applicant's age, education level and work experience. The agency promotes the Listings as a means for promoting consistency and accuracy in decisions throughout all stages of the disability benefits application process nationwide.

The SSA works with the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to establish a committee of medical experts who provide insights about medical advancements that are relevant to listed impairments. This helps the agency generate listings that are medically supportable and in tune with the latest medical technology and science.

Current Neurological Disorders on the Listing of Impairments

The Listings consist of medical conditions that are severe enough to prevent an individual from any gainful activity. In most cases, the impairments are either permanent or likely to end in death. The list of impairments for adults has 14 categories, including cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, respiratory and mental disorders.

Recognized conditions under the category of neurological impairments include:

  • Epilepsy
  • Brain tumors
  • Parkinsonian syndrome (Parkinson's)
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Huntington's chorea
  • Friedreich's ataxia
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease)
  • Muscular dystrophy

Each impairment is accompanied by its own specific medical criteria for evaluation of patients. For instance, epilepsy sufferers are assessed according to the type, frequency and duration of seizures, while ALS disability applications consider whether conditions that cause impairments with similar symptoms can be ruled out.

SSA maintains a separate set of Listings for people under 18 who seek disability benefits. The Listings are also relevant to applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for those who are not eligible for SSDI.

Ensuring That SSA Procedures Reflect Accepted Medical Science

In addition to neurological disorders, SSA intends to propose new rules this year a host of other medical conditions, including respiratory, skin, immune (HIV), digestive, vision, musculoskeletal and cardiovascular and disorders. The agency will also publish recently reviewed final rules for mental impairments that have an impact on multiple body systems, as well as genitourinary disorders.

As the vast body of regulations maintained by SSA evolves, so do the implications for afflicted individuals who have struggled to have their disabilities recognized. An SSDI lawyer can explain an applicant's prospects for obtaining benefits, and help clients face the SSA bureaucracy, from initial gathering of medical records to administrative appeals.