Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is one of the most common impairments among disability claimants. But because of the subjective nature of back pain, it can be difficult to obtain an approval of benefits. Below, we discuss how the SSA views degenerative disc disease disability claims, and how to know whether you qualify.
What Is Degenerative Disc Disease?
DDD is a condition that involves the shrinking of vertebral discs and commonly occurs as a natural part of the aging process. It can begin as early as age 30 in some people.
For many people, the pain that comes with degenerative disc disease disability is intermittent and may not hinder them from working. However, not all people are able to return to the same level of work as they did in the past. DDD can be extremely debilitating and painful.
Why Medical Records Are Important to Your Claim
But the problem with impairments that involve pain is that only the person experiencing it can know how bad it really is. Two people with similar back conditions can experience vastly different levels of pain. For this reason, SSA examiners give little consideration to complaints of pain. Instead, they evaluate medical records. And they typically only award degenerative disc disease disability benefits if you can prove through medical imaging that the condition has progressed into severely impacted vertebrae, causing severe chronic pain.
What Will the SSA Look For?
When the SSA reviews your medical records, they will look for the following:
- Physician treatment notes diagnosing DDD
- Objective tests indicating DDD (x-rays, CAT scans, MRI studies, etc.)
In doing this, the disability examiner will be looking for evidence of nerve root compression, which can be seen in a positive result of a straight leg raise test, arachnoiditis, or stenosis. Additionally, the examiner will review how the condition has impacted your life, including:
- Your ability to walk;
- Range of motion in your spine; and
- Your ability to sit or stand for an extended period of time without changing position.
How the SSA Evaluates DDD Cases
The SSA will determine if you qualify for degenerative disc disease disability through a step-by-step process involving five questions. They will look at medical records and consider your actual diagnosis as well as the prognosis of your medical problems. If your prognosis is that your condition has lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months or result in death, then you will be pushed through to other steps of the process.
Social Security will only pay you benefits if you are completely and totally disabled. They will not pay for short term or partial disability. The SSA will also determine if you are able to adjust to work you have done in the past or other types of work.
How to Increase Your Chances of Obtaining an Approval
Here are some things you can do to build a strong disability claim:
- Keep a journal of your daily life and how DDD impacts you
- Keep a record of your pain rating on a scale of 0-10
- Obtain medical records for all treatment received, including objective tests
- Obtain statements from friends, family, or coworkers regarding how DDD impacts your life
- Have your doctor complete a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) Assessment
- Attend any doctors’ appointments scheduled by Social Security
DDD Can Be an Expensive Condition to Treat
If you do not have medical insurance, or even if you have private insurance with high deductibles, you may have significant expenses related to your disability. Additionally, some treatments may not be covered by your insurance company.
DDD is often treated with hot and cold packs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, and physical therapy. These costs can range in the hundreds to thousands of dollars. If surgery is necessary, costs can be anywhere between $20,000 to $150,000. Microdiscectomy or discectomies are less expensive, while spinal fusions are the most expensive.
In many cases, additional medical appliances are necessary for DDD treatment. Back braces, corsets, and canes can be pricey as well. You may need a walker to help after a surgery. And these expenses do not include lost wages from being unable to work. In short, your condition can have a significant impact on your life financially, and Social Security disability benefits may be able to help.
Contact a Detroit Social Security Disability Attorney
If you have questions about applying for degenerative disc disease benefits, speak to attorney Marc J. Shefman today.