November 11, 2014

Epilepsy and Social Security Disability Benefits

A diagnosis of epilepsy can be unsettling and quite scary for most individuals.  Unpredictable symptoms and uncertainty regarding the patient’s prognosis create many stressors for the patient’s family.  Financial strains result from the added cost of medications and treatments, not to mention loss of income if epilepsy leads to the loss of a job.  It is helpful to know that Social Security disability benefits are available for people who have been diagnosed with epilepsy.

Some individuals can experience seizures from epilepsy with some or all of the following symptoms:

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    Uncontrollable jerking

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Staring
  • Confusion

Many individuals state that after a seizure, they experience severe fatigue and loss of energy for an extended period of time.

Social Security recognizes epilepsy and seizure disorders as disabling conditions in its Listing of Impairments.  If you have been diagnosed with either convulsive or non-convulsive epilepsy, your symptoms are evaluated under Listing 11.02 and 11.03 respectively.  If your child has been diagnosed with convulsive epilepsy, the symptoms are evaluated under Listing 111.02; if your child has non-convulsive epilepsy, the symptoms are evaluated under Listing 111.03.

Regardless of the type of epilepsy you experience, your medical records must contain certain types of evidence for your condition to meet Social Security’s Listings.  These include:

  • An established diagnosis of epilepsy (or, in some cases, seizure disorder)
  • Documentation of a detailed description of a seizure pattern, including the type, frequency, duration, and sequelae of the patient’s seizures by the patient’s treating physician
  • Documentation that the patient has complied with prescribed treatment for at least three months

Medical evidence to help prove your diagnosis of epilepsy includes EEG test results, PET scans, or MRIs of your brain.  Receiving regular evaluation and treatment from a neurologist is important as well; a statement from your treating neurologist regarding your symptoms, prognosis, and limitations can be very helpful in showing Social Security whether a specialist who knows your case very well thinks you are able to work with your diagnosis of epilepsy.  Additionally, if you keep a log tracking the frequency of your seizures and describing how they affect you, that information can help Social Security determine whether you meet the epilepsy listings.

Even if your epilepsy symptoms do not meet the specific requirements in Social Security’s Listings, you may still be disabled under Social Security’s rules.  If your epilepsy symptoms keep you from being able to perform the duties of a full-time job, you may be found disabled.  For example, if the after-effects of your seizures would cause you to be absent from work several times per month, you would be unable to hold competitive employment.  If your seizure medications do a good job controlling your symptoms but cause fatigue, headaches, or dizziness, you may be unable to maintain the level of concentration needed to perform even unskilled work.

Keep in mind, however, that Social Security does not take into consideration an employer’s unwillingness to hire someone they know has epilepsy.  Often I ask a clients with epilepsy why they can’t work and they reply, “As soon as I tell the interviewer I have epilepsy, they tell me they can’t hire me,” or “If I have a seizure on the job, I will get fired.”  Even if they are true, these reasons are not enough to convince Social Security that my clients with epilepsy are disabled.  We focus instead on their symptoms and how those symptoms prevent them from performing work activities.

Because of the complexity of the Social Security Administration’s rules and regulations, it may be helpful to consult an attorney or representative.  Most disability attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, making it possible to hire an attorney with no upfront costs; the attorney is only paid if you win your claim.  I understand how disabling the symptoms of epilepsy can be, and I fight hard to get my clients the benefits they deserve.

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