Disability Benefits for Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

If you have muscle weakness and fatigue, low vision, or involuntary movements due to MS, you may be able to get Social Security disability.

By , Attorney Seattle University School of Law
Updated 11/21/2022

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease that can affect vision, movement, and concentration. It affects more women than men and is most frequently diagnosed in people between the ages of 20 and 40 years old.

MS is an unpredictable disorder that varies from person to person. Some people have a mild form that doesn't significantly interfere with their lives, while others have severe symptoms that greatly restrict their daily activities. If symptoms from your MS prevent you from working full-time for at least twelve months, you might qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

What Is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?

Your body's immune system is an important defense against germs, bacteria, and viruses. MS occurs when your immune system begins attacking a protective sheath (known as myelin) that covers your nerve fibers and disrupts how your nerves communicate with the rest of your body.

Symptoms of MS

While not every person diagnosed with MS will have the same type, severity, or duration of symptoms, the disorder often affects movement. The more common symptoms include:

  • numbness, tingling, and weakness in the arms and legs
  • loss of balance or difficulty walking
  • painful muscle spasms
  • blurred vision, and
  • cognitive changes, such as memory loss or trouble concentrating.

Although a neurological examination can identify symptoms that may indicate the presence of multiple sclerosis, there is no conclusive test that diagnoses MS. Generally, your doctor will diagnose MS after ruling out other, similar conditions (a "differential diagnosis").

Types of MS

Neurologists classify multiple sclerosis into four different types:

  • Relapsing-remitting MS. The most common type of MS, this is characterized by relapses or "attacks" of increased symptoms followed by a period of recovery.
  • Primary progressive MS. This type involves worsening neurological functioning over time without any periods of recovery or remission.
  • Secondary progressive MS. This type starts off with cycles of relapse and remission, but later transitions into a progressive worsening of functioning.
  • Clinically isolated syndrome (CIS). This refers to the first episode of MS symptoms lasting at least 24 hours. People with CIS can, but do not always, develop MS.

Treatment for MS

Unfortunately, there's currently no known cure for MS. The most common treatment is medication, which can slow the disease's progression and help manage symptoms. Other treatments such as physical therapy, speech therapy, and the use of assistive devices may help. Lifestyle changes, like avoiding stress and maintaining an exercise program, can also be beneficial.

Can You Get Disability for Multiple Sclerosis?

Depending on how severe your MS symptoms are, you may qualify for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). Some people with MS have mild symptoms that don't pose any significant obstacles to work, while others have more limitations that rule out all jobs. People with very advanced MS might qualify for disability automatically under the SSA's Blue Book listing for multiple sclerosis.

How to Qualify for Disability Benefits for Multiple Sclerosis

Social Security awards disability benefits to people who have a medical condition that prevents them from working at the level of substantial gainful activity for at least twelve months. You'll also need to meet the financial eligibility requirements for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Medical Evidence Required When Proving Disability Due to MS

When you apply for disability benefits, the SSA will, with your permission, obtain records from the medical providers who treat you for your MS. Claims examiners for the SSA will be on the lookout for documentation of your MS symptoms as well information on how those symptoms limit you. Examples include:

  • medical imaging such as an MRI, CT scan, X-ray, or electroencephalography (EEG)
  • any tests you've undergone in the process of getting an MS diagnosis like a blood test, lumbar puncture, or nerve conduction study
  • the results of physical examinations that show muscle weaknesses and reduction in your range of motion
  • progress notes from your doctors showing that you're reporting MS symptoms such as fatigue or dizziness, and
  • medical source statements with your doctors' opinions about the severity of your MS.

Your medical records are the foundation of your disability claim, so make sure that you keep the SSA in the loop about any new treatment you receive for your MS. Social Security needs to see that your records are timely, accurate, and sufficient before the agency can use them as the basis to find you disabled.

Meeting the Official Listing for Multiple Sclerosis

The SSA maintains a "Listing of Impairments" (also known as the Blue Book) that provides specific criteria for certain conditions that, if documented in your medical records, automatically qualify you for disability. The requirements for multiple sclerosis are described under listing 11.09.

You can meet these requirements in two ways:

  • you have so much trouble with at least two of your arms and legs that you can't get up from a chair, walk without falling, or hold and carry objects without assistance, or
  • you can move independently (with difficulty), and you struggle to maintain mental focus.

Children can also qualify for SSI benefits under a similar listing for MS, but only in very limited circumstances (such as when they can't move independently).

Qualifying for Benefits Based on Medical-Vocational Guidelines

Most Social Security applicants ("claimants") with MS aren't so limited that they meet the strict requirements of the listing criteria, but that doesn't mean that they're not disabled. You can qualify for disability without meeting a listing if you can show that no jobs exist that you can perform according to the medical-vocational guidelines.

The medical-vocational guidelines are a set of rules that helps the SSA determine your ability to work based on your age, education, past work history, and what the agency refers to as your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC is a list of restrictions that reflect the most you're capable of doing, physically and mentally, in a work setting.

A typical RFC for a claimant with MS can include the following restrictions:

  • how long you can sit, stand, and walk for
  • how much weight you can lift and carry
  • whether you can perform skilled or unskilled tasks
  • how often you can use your fingers and hands to move objects or press buttons, and
  • whether you're able to focus enough to finish your job duties on time.

The SSA will determine your RFC by consulting a medical expert, reviewing your doctors' notes, and looking at the result of any consultative examinations you attended. If you have other physical or mental conditions that affect your ability to work, the agency will consider any limitations from these impairments, along with your MS, when determining your RFC.

If your RFC rules out your past work, Social Security will need to find out whether any other jobs exist that you can do with your restrictions. In general, being older—especially if you're over 55—with less education and a history of unskilled labor increases the chances that you'll qualify for disability. For more information, read about how Social Security decides claims based on the medical-vocational guidelines.

Getting Legal Help for Your MS Disability Claim

Because MS symptoms can vary so widely between claimants, without the help of an experienced disability attorney or advocate, it can be difficult to know what your chances are at qualifying for benefits. Consider getting a lawyer to help you with your MS claim. Your lawyer can ease the stress of gathering your medical records for submission to Social Security, and can represent you in front of an administrative law judge at a disability hearing.

You can find disability lawyers near you using our attorney locator tool here.

Do You Qualify for Disability in Your State?
Find out in minutes by taking our short quiz.

Talk to a Disability Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
Boost Your Chance of Being Approved

Get the Compensation You Deserve

Our experts have helped thousands like you get cash benefits.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you