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Chronic Pain and SSA Disability Benefits

Chronic pain is real and very debilitating for many workers. Some workers experience chronic pain which is so severe that it makes it impossible for them to work eight hours per day, forty-hours per week. So whether your chronic pain is so severe that strong pain relievers cannot alleviate it or it exists but the medical community has failed to find an origin or diagnosis, if you cannot work you should be able to qualify for either Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.

It sounds simple, but it is not.

Winning disability benefits for chronic pain from the Social Security Administration

The Social Security Administration (SSA) awards benefits for disability claimants in two ways: meeting a listing on the SSA listing of impairments or through a medical vocational allowance. Unfortunately, pain does not have a specific listing in the Social Security Administration (SSA) Listing of Impairments so “meeting a listing” is not possible.

How can you win Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security income (SSI) benefits for chronic pain? You will have to prove through credible medical evidence (doctor’s notes, laboratory results, MRIs, X-rays) that your acute pain is so severe that you cannot work. Unfortunately, if you have no medical evidence to support your claim of chronic pain you will be denied disability benefits.

Obviously, due to the subjectivity of chronic pain this may be difficult. Some claimants may be able to work through severe chronic pain while other claimants will seek out various levels of treatment. First, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will want to know what efforts you have made to alleviate your acute pain.

Information and medical treatments for pain

Claimants who suffer from severe acute pain will have to have records clearly documenting where the acute pain is located, the type of acute pain, what parts of the body pain affects and its severity.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) will also need information about what medical treatments have been used to either limit or stop the pain. Some claimants will also take large amounts of prescription medications or seek alternative pain treatments such as acupuncture or a TENS unit. Unfortunately, claimants who “work through” the pain and refuse treatment may genuinely suffer from extreme levels of pain, but the SSA may be less likely to believe the pain is severe if the claimant has not sought treatment.

Winning disability through a Medical Vocational Allowance

Up to 70% of disability applications are denied at the application level. If your disability is not on the Social Security Administration (SSA) listing of Impairments it will be very difficult to win benefits. So will you win SSI or SSDI for pain at the initial application level? Honestly, probably not. If you have other conditions which may severely limit your ability to work, your chances will improve, but most likely you will have to appeal your denial and request a reconsideration (the first step in the SSA appeals process).

All your medical evidence including testimonies, subjective statements from friends, family, co-workers, and doctors, records of the types and amounts of pain medications and your own testimony should clearly indicate that you do not have the residual functional capacity to work or perform work-related activities. What types of activities does this include?

  1. Lifting and carrying

  2. Sitting, standing and walking

  3. Pushing and pulling

  4. Handling, fingering and feeling

  5. Operation of foot controls

  6. Reaching overhead

  7. Balancing, stooping, kneeling, and crawling

  8. Climbing ladders, stairs and ramps

  9. Environmental limitations (cold, dust, heat, vibrations, humidity)

Additional information about your ability to work may be deduced from your ability to perform your daily activities including:

Hiring a Disability Lawyer

Claimants who can prove that they do not have the ability to either perform a number of work-related tasks or their daily activities due to severe chronic pain may be able to win disability benefits. Contact a disability lawyer for more information.
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