Neurological Disorders and Disability Benefits

An overview of how Social Security determines disability for neurological disorders.

Hundreds of millions of people worldwide suffer from neurological disorders, including epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), cerebral palsy, strokes, migraine headaches, and many other conditions that affect the central and peripheral nervous system. Fibromyalgia is now also considered to be a neurological disorder. The symptoms and severity of neurological impairments can widely vary depending on the specific condition and can include:

  • muscle weakness
  • tremors & involuntary movements
  • paralysis
  • seizures
  • sensory disturbances
  • mental impairments
  • speech difficulties, and
  • breathing problems.

Qualifying for Disability Benefits with a Neurological Disorder

If you’ve been diagnosed with a neurological disorder, and your condition prevents you from working, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. To be approved for disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will need to determine that you’re unable of doing any type of work on a regular basis.

One way that this is determined is based on a list of conditions referred to as the “listing of impairments.” For the conditions on this list, the SSA provides specific criteria, which, if met, qualify the applicant as disabled. Listing number 11.00 is reserved for neurological impairments.

The following conditions are included under listing 11.00:

However, just having a diagnosis that appears on this list doesn’t mean that you automatically qualify for Social Security disability benefits. Each condition has its own set of criteria that must be met in order to be granted benefits under that listing. Although the exact standards vary depending on the nature and symptoms of the specific condition, in general, your disability must be severe enough to prevent you from performing basic work-related activities on a regular basis.

Qualifying for Benefits Based on Reduced Capacity

If you suffer from a neurological condition that’s not included on the listing of impairments, or your condition is listed but you don’t meet the criteria to qualify under the listing, you may still be able to receive disability benefits.

The SSA is generally more concerned with your abilities, versus your specific diagnosis. To determine what your abilities are, the SSA will assign you a “Residual Functional Capacity (RFC).” Your physical RFC is the heaviest type of work that the SSA feels you are capable of performing, and could range from sedentary to heavy. Your mental RFC indicates the level of impairment you have in several different areas – for example, whether you can work in a fast-paced environment, or how long you can pay attention.

The SSA will then use this information to decide whether or not there is any work that you could do. In deciding, the agency will also consider your age, education level, and the type(s) of work you’ve done previously. Overall, those who are older (in particular older than age 50), have less education, and have performed unskilled work are more likely to get approved for disability based on their RFC.

If you have both physical and mental impairments, you’ll be given a separate RFC for each category. If you suffer from more than one physical or mental condition that negatively affects your ability to work, the SSA will consider their combined effects.

Medical Evidence Required When Proving Disability Due to a Neurological Condition

Your medical file should include things like a complete medical history, neurological examination findings, results of electrophysiological, neuroimaging, and other tests, a list of previous and current medications and treatments, and your doctor's opinion on what you can and cannot do.

Applying for Disability Benefits for a Neurological Condition

You can apply for Social Security disability either at your local SSA office, by calling the SSA at 800-772-1213, or online at www.ssa.gov (for SSDI only). Once your application is complete, it will be sent to a claims examiner, who will obtain copies of your medical records from your doctors and other healthcare providers. They may also send you reports to complete, ask you to go to a medical exam (at the SSA's cost) or even interview your family members and friends. Once your file is complete, the claims examiner will, along with a medical expert, make a determination on your eligibility for disability benefits. Some Social Security applicants receive a decision 4-5 months after applying, but sometimes, it takes much longer.

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