Spinal cord injuries can be devastating, causing significant physical and emotional challenges for those who experience them. If you have suffered a spinal cord injury and are unable to work as a result, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. In this blog post, we’ll provide an overview of the process for receiving Social Security disability for a spinal cord injury.

What is a Spinal Cord Injury?

A spinal cord injury affects the spinal cord, which is a long, delicate tube of nerve tissue that runs from the brain down through the center of the back. The spinal cord transmits messages between the brain and the rest of the body, so when it is damaged, it can disrupt the normal functioning of the body.

There are many ways that a spinal cord injury can occur, including car accidents, falls, sports injuries, and violence. A spinal cord injury can have a wide range of effects on the body, depending on the severity of the injury and the location of the damage. Some common effects of a spinal cord injury may include:

Paralysis: Depending on the location of the injury, a spinal cord injury may cause paralysis of some or all of the body. This can include partial paralysis, where the person has some movement in the affected area, or complete paralysis, where the person has no movement in the affected area.

Loss of sensation: A spinal cord injury may cause a loss of sensation near the affected area, meaning the person may not feel touch, temperature, or pain in that area.

Difficulty with bowel and bladder function: A spinal cord injury may cause problems with bowel and bladder control, leading to incontinence or the need to use a catheter to urinate and adaptive help with bowel care.

Difficulty breathing: Depending on the location of the injury, a spinal cord injury may cause difficulty breathing and the need for a ventilator to help the person breathe.

Chronic pain: Some people with spinal cord injuries may experience chronic pain, which can be managed with medication and other treatments.

A spinal cord injury can have a major impact on a person’s physical abilities, independence, and quality of life. With proper medical care and rehabilitation, many people with spinal cord injuries can lead fulfilling lives and achieve a high level of function. However, many need the financial and medical assistance provided by Social Security Disability and Medicare to achieve this higher level of function.

SSDI and Spinal Cord Injury

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a five-step process for determining whether an individual is eligible for SSDI benefits. Once the claim is filed, the claimant must go through the following process:

  1. Determine whether the individual meets certain non-disability requirements, such as whether they have worked long enough and paid enough into the Social Security system to be eligible for benefits. They will also determine if the claimant is working at or above the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level as defined by the SSA in the year they file. The SGA level for 2023 is a monthly income of $1470.
  2. Determine whether the individual’s medical condition is severe enough to qualify as a disability. The condition must be expected to last at least one year or result in death and significantly limit the claimant’s ability to perform basic work activities, such as
  • sitting
  • standing
  • reaching
  • pulling or pushing
  • lifting or carrying
  • simple cognitive reasoning
  1. Determine whether the effects of the claimant’s spinal cord injury meet or medically equal a listing in the SSA’s “Blue Book” of impairments. The Blue Book is a list of medical conditions that are considered severe enough to automatically qualify an individual for disability benefits.

To be eligible for SSD benefits, your spinal cord injury should meet the criteria outlined in the SSA’s bluebook sections 11.08 or 1.15, among others.

Under Listing 11.08, you need medical records showing one or any of the following:

  • complete loss of function of one or more parts of the body for three consecutive months because of a spinal cord injury.
  • complete or partial motor dysfunction in two of your extremities to where you can’t stand up, balance while standing, walk, or use your upper extremities without help for three consecutive months.
  • limited difficulty standing up, walking or using upper extremities to hold objects by yourself while also struggling with mental functions like remembering instructions, concentrating on tasks, or social interaction for three months.

To meet or equal the requirements of Listing 1.15, you need medical records showing:

  • you experience pain, tingling, or muscle fatigue in a part of the body affected by the compression of a nerve root
  • you have taken tests (such as a nerve conduction study) showing weakness, irritation, or decreased reflexes,
  • you have had imaging (MRI, X-ray, CT scan) showing the nerve compromise, and
  • you can’t use both of your hands independently (for example, you need to use your hands to operate an assistive device like a walker).
  1. Determine claimant’s ability to do past relevant work: If the individual’s condition does not meet or medically equal a listing, the SSA will consider whether the individual can do any work they have done in the past.
  2. Determine the claimant’s ability to do other work. If the individual is not able to do their past work, the SSA will determine whether they can do any other type of work, considering their medical condition, age, education, and job skills.

Getting Help Filing Disability for Spinal Cord Injury

If you believe you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits because of a spinal cord injury, it’s important to gather all the necessary medical evidence and documentation to ensure a smooth and successful application. If you have questions about the process for receiving it’s a good idea to speak with a qualified Social Security disability lawyer. They can provide guidance and assistance throughout the process, helping to ensure that your application is successful.

Brock & Stout’s disability lawyers have over 25 years of experience helping those with spinal cord injuries get the benefits they need. Contact us for a free evaluation to see if we can help you.