A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is disrupted or when blood vessels hemorrhage, causing brain cell damage. About 795,000 people suffer a stroke each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sadly, stroke victims in Illinois may face various lingering physical and mental complications. As any Social Security attorney in Chicago can attest, these complications can be highly debilitating.
Social Security Disability benefits may be available to some stroke survivors. However, these individuals must meet various medical and general criteria to be considered eligible for benefits. Furthermore, people seeking SSD benefits must provide extensive documentation to prove their conditions meet Social Security’s strict standards.
Social Security uses a specialized definition of “disabled,” which excludes short-term conditions and conditions that allow gainful employment. Under this definition, a person’s disabling condition must be projected to last longer than one year or result in death. The condition must also prevent the person from performing previously held jobs or adapting to new work.
People who qualify as disabled must additionally meet financial criteria. In 2015, Social Security does not let people collect SSD benefits if they have monthly income greater than $1,090. The only exception is for blind individuals, who can make up to $1,820. People seeking SSD benefits also must qualify as “insured” based on their earnings. Social Security only considers people insured if they have enough recent and overall earnings. The specific amount needed depends on the person’s age.
People who fail to meet these criteria cannot collect benefits, no matter how debilitating their conditions are. If an applicant meets these requirements, Social Security still must evaluate the medical merits of the applicant’s claim. Social Security may award benefits if an applicant suffers from a condition listed in the “Blue Book” of impairments. Social Security may also award a medical-vocational allowance after evaluating an applicant’s ability to work despite the stroke.
Stroke is included in the Blue Book, as any Social Security attorney in Chicago can confirm. Victims must document specific side effects to meet the listing requirements. Victims must struggle to form or understand words and, as a result, experience difficulty speaking or writing. Alternately, victims must struggle to control two extremities, resulting in issues with walking, fine motor movements or gross movements. These effects must be evident at least three months after the stroke occurs.
If a stroke causes other disabling conditions or impairments, a victim may qualify for benefits under another Blue Book listing. For example, a person who experiences visual field loss due to a stroke may seek benefits under that listing. In this case, the individual would focus on documenting the visual loss, rather than the other effects of the stroke.
People who do not meet any Blue Book listing terms may qualify for medical-vocational allowances. When awarding allowances, Social Security considers what type of work a person is reasonably able to perform. Along with the person’s medical condition, Social Security weighs age, skills, experience and functional limitations. If, together, these factors don’t reasonably allow a person to work gainfully, the person may receive an allowance.
Stroke victims may experience numerous functional restrictions, given the variety of complications associated with stroke. As a Social Security attorney in Chicago knows, these could include the following difficulties:
- Physical limitations — stroke can cause bodily weakness, stiffness and numbness. This can impede victims in performing many physical tasks, such as walking, standing, lifting and manipulating objects. Additional physical symptoms, such as issues with balance, may further limit a person’s functional capabilities.
- Cognitive effects — stroke may cause issues with memory, recognition, speech and reasoning. Victims may have trouble reading, communicating and carrying out mentally demanding tasks. These effects may limit victims from performing many sedentary jobs.
- Emotional changes — stroke can also result in emotional and behavioral changes. Victims may experience anxiety, depression or irritability, along with general behavioral shifts, such a heightened tendency to act carelessly. These changes may affect a person’s ability to function in social environments, including the workplace.
As a Social Security attorney in Chicago can explain, victims can strengthen their claims by documenting these limitations. Victims can provide firsthand accounts of their symptoms. Personal sources, such as family members, can describe the restrictions a victim faces. A treating physician also can provide statements about a victim’s impairments and remaining capabilities.
Stroke victims may benefit from directly asking a treating physician to complete a Residual Functional Capacity form. This form allows for specific descriptions of how effectively and persistently a person can perform certain tasks. The form also declares the level of work an applicant can engage in, with options ranging from sedentary to heavy. An accurate RFC analysis can make a significant difference in the outcome of a stroke victim’s claim.
People who seek SSD benefits soon after suffering from a stroke will not receive an immediate claim decision. Social Security defers the decision because the long-term effects of a stroke are not always immediately clear. Some early side effects may resolve in time, while others may prove persistent. Therefore, as any Social Security attorney in Chicago understands, Social Security always evaluates these claims at least three months after the stroke.
Stroke victims may benefit from delaying their applications to secure current medical records and statements at the three-month mark. However, victims should consider gathering documentation of the stroke and any related complications soon after the stroke occurs. This can help strengthen an eventual claim by establishing the longevity and potential worsening of symptoms and complications.