May 29, 2014

Social Security Disability Benefits for Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI)

A traumatic brain injury (TBI)  occurs when an external mechanical force causes damage to the brain.  These injuries may occur as a result of vehicle accidents, firearms, falls, construction accidents, or sports injuries.  A TBI may cause temporary or permanent impairment of brain functioning and might cause structural damage to the brain as well.  

Symptoms from TBIs vary depending on the severity of the injury.  In moderate or severe cases, unconsciousness may occur within seconds or minutes.    Milder injuries may cause symptoms including but not limited to: headaches, vomiting/nausea, dizziness, balance problems, and fatigue.  Some common long term symptoms of moderate to severe TBIs may include but are not limited to: changes in appropriate social behavior; problems with sustained attention, processing speed, and executive functioning; and alexithymia.  Alexithymia is a condition in which an individual has problems identifying, understanding, processing, and describing emotions. the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology reports that 60.9% of patients diagnosed with TBI suffer from alexithymia.

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The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes traumatic brain injuries in its Listing of Impairments at Section 11.18 – Cerebral Trauma.  In evaluating whether your TBI meets a listing, though, the SSA refers to other listings that address the specific body systems affected by your injury.  For example, if you suffer psychological or behavioral symptoms resulting  from your TBI, you may meet Listing 12.02 – Organic Mental Disorders.  If your TBI leads to seizures, you may meet listing 11.02 – Convulsive Epilepsy or 11.03 – Nonconvulsive Epilepsy.

In order to meet Social Security’s definition of disability, your impairment must have lasted or be expected to last at least twelve months.  TBIs can be difficult to evaluate under Social Security’s standard because their long-term prognoses can be difficult to forecast accurately.  Some TBIs cause very severe symptoms at first but gradually improve, while others grow worse over time.  Therefore, it is very important in your Social Security disability case that you have thorough medical records.  It is important to show Social Security that your symptoms have been persistently disabling over time.  Further, records showing diagnosis and treatment by a specialist such as a neurologist can be very helpful as well, because the SSA typically gives more weight to the opinions of specialists than they do to the opinions of general practitioners.

If you have questions about your Social Security disability claim, you may want to give your local SSA office a call.  They should be able to answer your questions concerning your eligibility for benefits or the status of your case.  If you have applied for disability benefits and been denied, you may find it helpful to consult an attorney or representative regarding the appeals process. Many people’s initial applications for benefits are denied, and the appeals process can be long and confusing.  Most Social Security disability attorneys or claimant representatives offer a free consultation to give you a better idea of what your case might look like in the eyes of the SSA.

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