Chronic fatigue syndrome is a disorder that causes extreme exhaustion without an explanation or underlying medical cause. In fact, your exhaustion may become worse following physical or mental activity. However, it doesn’t get better with rest. Additionally, you may also experience issues with memory and concentration, muscle pain, and insomnia.
Scientists currently don’t understand what causes chronic fatigue syndrome. However, some theories include psychological stress and viral infections. Some professionals also believe a combination of factors may cause this hard-to-pinpoint health issue.
Unfortunately, there’s no specific diagnostic test that can confirm chronic fatigue syndrome. For this reason, people who have it may need multiple tests to rule out other issues with similar symptoms. Once you get a chronic fatigue syndrome diagnosis, treatment typically focuses on relieving your symptoms.
Does Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Qualify for Social Security Disability?
The Social Security Administration (SSA) issued a ruling recognizing chronic fatigue syndrome as a legit medical illness. If you meet the technical requirements for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits, you can apply for it with this condition. The SSA says chronic fatigue syndrome “constitutes a medically determinable impairment when accompanied by medical signs or laboratory findings.”
You must prove CFS prevents you from working at least 12 months to get SSD benefits for chronic fatigue syndrome. Still, this illness doesn’t garner automatic approval. First, the SSA reviews all your medical evidence and determines whether you can perform your past work. If you can’t do your old job, they will look for any other work you can do before making a decision.
You may need to complete a Residual Functional Capacity Assessment (RCA) as part of your medical exam. The RFC is a report stating how your health issues limit your ability to complete certain job-related tasks. If you need frequent breaks during the day to rest, most employers wouldn’t be able to accommodate you. This makes performing your required job duties for 40 hours per week more challenging. If you have severe pain and weakness, many job tasks become difficult to impossible for you to handle. Carrying heaving objects, frequently standing, stooping or staying on your feet all day are just a few examples.
What Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms Does the SSA Look For?
The SSA also counts on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to evaluate CFS cases. To receive a diagnosis, you must experience these symptoms for at least six months:
- Muscle pain
- Frequent sore throats
- Memory and/or concentration issues
- Tender or enlarged lymph nodes
- Sleep that doesn’t refresh you
- Headaches that differ from the ones you had from before developing chronic fatigue syndrome
- A generally unwell feeling that lasts for 24 hours after any mental or physical exertion
Many people with CFS also suffer from related health issues, such as anxiety or depression. These mental health issues can also make it harder for you to work 40 hours every week. If you struggle to get along with coworkers or frequently arrive late, say that on your SSD application.
What Medical Evidence Best Proves Your CFS Prevents You From Working?
It’s important to provide the SSA with copies of all your chronic fatigue syndrome-related medical records, including:
- Lab test results (bloodwork, screenings to rule out other chronic illnesses, etc.) These matter, because they show the SSA your CFS is new and not explained by another illness or chronic condition.
- Doctor’s visits and progress notes showing your symptoms don’t improve with ongoing treatment
- Hospitalization dates and receipts, if applicable (i.e., surgeries, outpatient procedures, diagnostic tests)
- A printed list of all prescription and over-the-counter medications you currently take, dosages, frequency, and their side effects
- Psychometric testing results and reports from a psychologist or neurologist, if applicable
BONUS TIP: Always list every health issue you have on your SSD claim paperwork. One health problem alone might not qualify you as ‘disabled’ in the SSA’s eyes. About 62% of people approved for SSD benefits in recent years listed 3-5 different health problems on their claims.
It’s also imperative to explain how chronic fatigue syndrome limits your ability to work and impacts your daily living. Physically, you want to mention how well you can walk, stand, sit, lift, push, pull, handle, carry, or reach things. Mentally, you should describe how CFS or related conditions limit your ability to:
- Understand, remember and complete simple instructions, especially verbal (not written)
- Respond appropriately to supervisors, coworkers, and typical work situations, especially stressful ones
- Handle changes in a routine work environment
Technical SSD Eligibility Requirements You Must Also Meet
Your health isn’t the only thing the SSA reviews when you apply for disability. You must also meet the technical SSD eligibility requirements to qualify for monthly benefits:
- You must not currently receive any Social Security benefits when applying for disability. Federal law prevents any applicant from drawing two benefits on the same work record (this is called “double dipping”). If you already draw early retirement, regular Social Security or spousal benefits, the SSA will likely automatically deny your claim.
- You must have worked at least 5 in the last 10 years full time while paying Social Security payroll taxes. The SSA automatically denies claimants who haven’t worked recently or enough years to earn 40 Social Security work credits.
- You must be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (“Green Card” holder) to get SSD benefits. Legal immigrants can get SSD benefits only after living, working and paying taxes in the U.S. for at least five years.
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
Because the SSD process is complicated and intricate, your best bet is having a lawyer help you file. A Social Security attorney filing your claim makes you nearly 3x more likely to get disability benefits when you apply. Since these attorneys work on contingency, you pay $0 for legal assistance if the SSA doesn’t award you a lump-sum cash payment. But if you win, then you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee.
Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free online benefits evaluation now!
Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.