Epilepsy is a relatively generic term used to describe a condition in which a person has repeated seizures. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately 3.4 million people nationwide suffer from epilepsy. There are numerous possible causes for a seizure disorder, including: traumatic brain injury, genetic condition, certain medications, drug abuse, brain tumors, infections, and abnormal levels of glucose in the blood (such as sometimes happens in diabetic patients).
Is Epilepsy a Disability?
There are also several different types of seizures. “True” seizures can be either “generalized” (affecting both sides of the brain) or “focal” (affecting one area of the brain). According to the Social Security Administration, the most common disabling seizure types are:
- Generalized Tonic-Clonic Seizures. Typically, when you have a tonic-clonic seizure, you lose consciousness and often experience convulsions. Tongue biting, urinary incontinence, and/or fecal incontinence often accompany these types of seizures. These seizures are typically considered the most serious and disabling.
- Dyscognitive Seizures. These seizures are typically less obvious. Oftentimes, you do not lose consciousness and do not have any convulsions or loss of muscle control. These types of seizures are most obvious through the existence of “blank staring” or changes in facial expressions. The types of symptoms that can accompany the seizures vary from patient to patient. Because they do not exhibit the classical convulsing type seizures you typically associate with epilepsy, it is harder to spot when someone is having this type of seizure.
The Social Security Administration also recognizes that a person might not be having “true” seizures, which typically requires some level of abnormal electrical activity in the brain. “Psychogenic” seizures and pseudoseizures, while they certainly may be disabling for some people, are not evaluated the same as epileptic seizures. Because these types of seizures do not result from any assertive observable or measurable problems of the brain, it is typically felt that these conditions are primarily psychological in nature. As such, the Social Security Administration evaluates these conditions under the Social Security Listings for mental disorders.
How Is Epilepsy Diagnosed?
In our experience, a proper diagnosis of epilepsy is typically only made by a board-certified neurologist after the patient has undergone neurological exams, blood tests, and/or Electroencephalogram testing. Sometimes, the structural problem in the brain can be detected by a CT scan or MRI. However, these scans alone will not show seizure activity.
What Must Be Shown to Get Disability for Epilepsy?
Epilepsy does have a “Listing” in the Social Security Disability “Blue Book.” This can be found at Listing 11.02. The biggest thing that must show up in your medical records are documented seizures. Ideally, these seizures would be either observed by medical personnel or shown on one of the diagnostic methods described above.
An electroencephalogram (“EEG” for short), which shows seizure activity in the brain, is probably the most authoritative method for diagnosing an active seizure disorder. If you have one generalized tonic-clonic seizure per month, for at least three months, despite following your doctors prescribed treatment, you would likely meet the Listing for epilepsy. If you have focal or “partial seizures, and you have these at least once a week for at least three consecutive months despite following your doctor’s treatment, this might also qualify.
If you have seizures less frequently than this, you may still qualify if you have serious limitations in physical functioning, understanding or applying information, interacting with others, concentrating or maintaining pace, or adapting and managing yourself. This is a very-fact intensive determination, and you will typically need physician support, either from your treating doctor or from a Social Security consultant.
What if My Seizure Disorder Doesn’t Meet the Disability Listings?
Sometimes, you can’t prove any of the above conditions, but you still have symptoms that make you unable to work and medical evidence to document it. In addition, people with epilepsy commonly suffer from severe headaches or migraines, anxiety, depression, or cognitive problems.
If your epilepsy does not meet the Listing, the Social Security Administration may look at your “residual functional capacity,” or RFC. The five categories of residual functional capacity are:
- Very Heavy
The following abilities fall under your residual functional capacity:
- Pushing and/or pulling (including operation of hand and/or foot controls)
- Climbing ramps and stairs
- climbing ladders, ropes, and scaffolds
- Stooping, kneeling, crouching, or crawling without difficulty
- The existence of any mental, emotional, or psychological impairments that limit you to unskilled work (these could include depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder)
- The existence of any environmental limitations (these could include being unable to work in extreme heat or cold, or not being up to work in an environment with fumes)
An Administrative Law Judge or other adjudicator will weigh medical evidence to determine your residual functional capacity, thus determining whether or not your seizures qualify you as disabled. For this reason, it is crucial to develop medical evidence for your claim, including getting properly worded statements from any treating medical providers.
How a Neurologist Can Help Your Claim
If you think you have epilepsy, but you cannot seem to get the proper diagnosis, asking your family doctor to be referred to a neurologist is probably a good idea. A neurologist can perform a physical examination focused on seizure disorders and can order tests specifically intended to diagnose epilepsy.
The following are some of the clinics in West Michigan that specialize in Neurology:
Lakeshore Health Partners—Neurology
577 Michigan Ave., Suite 203
Holland, MI 49423
Dr. Gary Gurden, MD
957 Brookhaven Ct., Suite F
Muskegon, MI 49442
2750 E. Beltline Ave. NE.
Grand Rapids, MI 49525
Attorney Handling Social Security Disability Denial Claims for Seizures
It is a sad and unfortunate reality that the majority of first-time Social Security disability claims are denied, even for those who are clearly disabled. However, do not give up hope. Our Muskegon attorney is here to help.
The majority of claims have to be brought before an Administrative Law Judge at a hearing. Testifying before an administrative law judge regarding your claim is a nerve-racking process, even if you know you rightfully deserve benefits. We can help you properly prepare for the process, including gathering the medical evidence you’ll need to support your claim. In addition, we will meet with you in person several times prior to the hearing to ensure that you are prepared for the questions the judge is going to ask.
Unlike many nationwide and large firms that handle Social Security benefits cases, at Nolan & Shafer, PLC you will not be passed around from person to person. Instead, you will work with the same attorney from start to finish of your claim. And, there is no fee unless you we win your case.
“I would highly recommend Nolan & Shafer! Matt was my attorney and he was always accommodating, very kind, and helpful.”Courtney S.
“Great job Matt and Nolan’s & Shafer. If you need representation give them a call!”Steve G.
“He is someone I trust and now am happy to call him a friend.”Marvin D.
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