Slepian Smith, PLLC

Disabling effects of stroke can qualify the victim for SSDI

During a stroke, the symptoms can be confusing and severe, followed by grave concern for the long-term effects and how they will impact the person’s ability to live – and work. When aftereffects prevent work, the person should look seriously at whether they qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income.

These are federal government programs to help people who are unable to work because of disability. SSDI is a public disability insurance program that people pay into through their Social Security payroll deductions, while SSI is an anti-poverty program for which disability is one way to qualify for people with low income and few assets.

Anatomy of a stroke

Mayo Clinic provides a detailed explanation of a stroke and what symptoms may follow, sometimes permanently. Severity can vary widely, from invisible or very mild all the way to a devastating medical event causing permanent brain damage or paralysis and sometimes death. Severity depends on where the brain damage occurred and how many cells were affected.

Some people have “ministrokes” that do not cause permanent damage.

Blockage or slowing of blood supply into the brain causes stroke and prevents the inflow of oxygen, causing brain cell death. The faster treatment begins, the better the outcome, in most cases. Anyone experiencing or observing signs of stroke in another person, such as trouble speaking, drooping on one side of the face or inability to raise only one arm, should immediately call emergency services.

Treatment can include medication and surgery, often followed by many kinds of therapies, depending on the patient. Long-term rehabilitation may be necessary.

Stroke symptoms and work

Some symptoms from stroke that may restrict the ability to perform work activities include:

  • Memory loss and trouble with thinking and understanding
  • Speech impairments, both speaking and understanding
  • Difficulty with reading or writing
  • Paralysis or loss of use of muscles
  • Depression or intense emotion
  • Pain or “unusual sensations”
  • Fatigue and low stamina

Strokes and Social Security Disability

When a stroke victim files an SSDI or SSI application, the Social Security Administration, called the SSA, will look at whether the claimant meets the federal definition of disability. Eligibility depends on whether the claimant has a severe medical impairment or combination of impairments expected to last at least a year or result in death and that prevents the claimant from working.

The SSA has a Listing of Impairments of conditions so severe that an automatic finding of disability follows if a claimant’s diagnosis meets or equals a listing. Stroke is a listed impairment (11.04 Vascular insult to the brain). This listing requires at least one of three outcomes:

  • Aphasia causing “ineffective speech or communication” that is extreme and limits “basic communication skills” for at least three months
  • Disorganization of motor function interfering with movement in two extremities that extremely limits standing up from sitting, balancing or using upper extremities for at least three months
  • Marked limitation in physical functioning, plus marked limitation in mental function of at least one of four types: using information, interacting with people, concentrating or keeping pace, or “managing oneself”

Even if the condition does not meet or equal the listing, the agency will take a comprehensive look at the physical and mental limitations from the stroke and from any other impairments and how they limit the person’s ability to perform basic work activities. There may also be impact on the ability to work from age, skill level and education.

An experienced SSDI lawyer can be extremely helpful in a stroke claim. The attorney will help to create a comprehensive medical record for the claim file, including obtaining assessments from medical specialists in areas spinning off from the stroke like speech pathologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists and others.

In addition, legal counsel will hold the agency’s feet to the fire to properly consider credible reports of subjective symptoms like pain, depression, emotional and physical pain, fatigue, weakness and others not measurable in any physical way.


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