Slepian Smith, PLLC

Brain injuries are complex and varied, but can be disabling

At Slepian Smith, PLLC, our lawyers represent Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income claimants in their applications for benefits based on a variety of disabling conditions. Brain injuries vary in severity and type, causing a range of symptoms and limitations, but can certainly become the legitimate basis of a disability claim for SSDI or SSI.

Acquired brain injuries

A brain injury that happens after birth is called an acquired brain injury or ABI, of which there are two types: traumatic and nontraumatic. A nontraumatic brain injury results from an “internal force” to the body, according to the Brain Injury Association of America. Examples of internal forces that can injure the brain include strokes, drug overdoses, seizures, tumors, toxins and poisoning, oxygen deprivation, shock, metabolic disorders and infectious diseases.

Traumatic brain injury, usually called TBI, can be either closed or open, meaning with or without penetration of the brain. TBIs are caused by external forces like vehicular accidents, falls, sports injuries, assault, shootings and blast injuries such as in military action.

Right after the injury, brain cells may become damaged or dead. There may be a loss of consciousness or even coma, breathing trouble and problems with motor functioning.

Types and symptoms

The most common kind of head injury is concussion, in which brain trauma stretches blood vessels and damages cranial nerves. The brain may also bleed or swell and there may be a skull fracture. The injury can be permanent, or it can take months or years to heal.

Other types of brain injuries include:

  • Contusions, which are bruised areas of the brain
  • Penetration
  • Abusive head trauma such as shaken baby syndrome
  • Locked-in syndrome in which only the eyes can move
  • Closed head injury with brain swelling and pressure

Unfortunately, the brain for the most part does not physically heal, although initial symptoms may subside. Still, rehabilitative therapies and counseling can be helpful, along with medications and lots of rest.

Ongoing symptoms can vary widely, but may include:

  • Emotional instability, depression and anxiety
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Hallucinations
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Challenges with communication, attention and memory
  • Weakness
  • Impaired vision
  • Sleep problems and fatigue
  • Varying kinds of altered consciousness like a vegetative state, minimally conscious state, locked-in syndrome, ongoing coma or brain death
  • Seizures
  • Muscle spasms that can interfere with walking and self-care

Social Security Disability and inability to work

The Brain Injury Association reports that impairments resulting from brain injury can cause problems with work, which is obvious from the list of potential symptoms. The SSDI and SSI programs focus on whether an impairment or combination of impairments prevent work.

One way to establish disability is to determine whether a claimant’s condition meets or equals an impairment in the Social Security Administration’s listing of impairments, which are so serious that they qualify for an automatic finding of disability. For a traumatic brain injury, the agency will look at whether the TBI meets or equals the listed impairment for neurocognitive disorders (12.02).

Otherwise, the agency will consider whether the limitations caused by the brain injury in combination with the claimant’s age, education and work skills leaves them unable to work.

 

 

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