Disabilities that come from neurological disorders don’t affect everyone the same way. Someone with a seizure disorder (like epilepsy) may have a different experience than a diabetic who has seizures. You don’t need a specific seizure disorder in order to qualify for disability benefits (though it helps). If your medical condition causes seizures, we’ll explain what evidence can help get your disability claim approved below.
What If You Don’t Have a Specific Seizure Disorder (Like Epilepsy)?
The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses specific criteria while reviewing disability claims for neurological disorders. Epilepsy is among them, but the SSA will consider any neurological disorder that causes seizures that meet certain criteria. They specifically look for impairments that cause “disorganization of motor function, bulbar and neuromuscular dysfunction, communication impairment, or a combination of limitations in physical and mental functioning.” Certain other medical issues can mimic a seizure disorder in people who don’t have epilepsy. These include:
- Brain tumors
- Traumatic head injuries
- Some autoimmune disorders
Your age can influence what type of seizure you have (or whether they’ll continue all your life). Children younger than two often have seizures for one or more reasons below:
- Birth or developmental defects
- Birth injuries
- Metabolic disorders
Children aged 2-14 usually experience an idiopathic seizure disorder (in other words, the cause is almost certainly genetic). Adults without a specific seizure disorder diagnosis may have seizures for any of the following reasons:
- Cerebral trauma (i.e., concussions)
- Alcohol withdrawal
- Other unknown reasons
Regardless of their cause, the SSA will look at how severe your seizures are when evaluating your disability benefits application. So, understanding why you have them is key (be sure to say that on your claim paperwork!). If you’re not sure why you have seizures, visit a doctor before you apply. An official diagnosis and regular treatment from your doctor is necessary to get your claim approved. And that’s true for any impairment, not just a seizure disorder!
How to Meet the SSA’s Disability Criteria for Any Condition That Causes Seizures
The SSA uses strict criteria for approving disability claims — especially for a seizure disorder or related illness. The many different causes and limitations makes any condition that mimics a seizure disorder difficult to analyze. But like all qualifying disabilities, the SSA needs to see evidence that your impairment limits your ability to complete daily tasks. A diagnosis on its own is not sufficient. Next, we’ll tell you exactly what the SSA looks for when they review your claim.
1. The SSA needs to see all medical evidence on your seizure disorder (or condition that’s causing your seizures).
You’ll need to show the most current, up-to-date treatments and full medical history for your seizure disorder (or related condition). Submit evidence that best supports your disability claim, such as:
- The date your doctor first diagnosed your seizure disorder (only if it started in the last 2-5 years)
- Laboratory test results
- Treatment notes from your doctor that talk about your symptoms
- Imaging scans (like X-rays, CT scans, MRIs or EEGs)
You’ll also need to list all prescribed treatments and how well they worked (or didn’t work) to control your seizures. To qualify for disability benefits, you need to show that even with regular treatment, you’re still having seizures. Even more specifically, your seizures must continue for three consecutive months, even while taking your medication or following your doctor’s treatment plan.
2. Next, the SSA needs to know how this seizure disorder impacts you both physically and mentally.
The SSA evaluates this in a very scientific manner. For a qualifying seizure disorder, you must have marked limitation in how well you physically function on a day-to-day basis. But you also must have a marked limitation in at least one of four mental functioning areas, too, which include:
- Understanding, remembering or applying information;
- Interacting with others;
- Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace;
- Adapting or managing your own behaviors
If your seizure disorder severely limits you in at least one of the four areas listed above, the SSA’s more likely to approve your claim. If your mental ability’s limited in at least two of the four areas but you don’t have any physical limitations, there’s still hope! The SSA will then consider whether you qualify using their criteria for mental disorders.
3. The SSA needs to see proof that your seizure disorder seriously limits your ability to work.
If your seizures happen without warning and end quickly, the SSA may think you’re still able to work with certain restrictions. In other words, there’s bound to be an employer in your area who’s willing to hire you and accommodate your needs. In general, there are two ways to prove you cannot work full-time, specifically due to your seizure disorder:
- Show the SSA how your seizure disorder stops you from completing daily living tasks on your own. We’re specifically thinking about tasks like driving, sleeping and self-care. Since these tasks are often subjective, we recommend keeping a seizure disorder daily symptom diary. Use this to track your seizures, of course, but also any other symptoms that limit your ability to do things like walk, bathe, get dressed or cook meals without help. If your seizure disorder symptoms aren’t bad enough to prevent completely certain tasks, detail how much longer they’ll take instead. This is considered non-medical evidence and can help prove your claim qualifies for disability benefits.
- Another option is proving the treatment for your seizure disorder substantially impairs your ability to work. In other words, the meds your doctor prescribes to control your seizures makes you unable to work full-time. People prescribed seizure disorder medication often deal with side effects that make it hard to hold down full-time jobs. And don’t just write “I’m sleepier” or “forget things more often,” because it’s not specific enough. Instead, talk about your inability to remember verbal directions, or that you can’t stand up very long for the first two hours after taking your meds. Compare those symptoms to your most recent job description’s required tasks. This shows the SSA all the reasons why your medication prevents you from keeping your current job. Some good examples include:
- Trouble concentrating
- Memory problems
I’ve Had Epilepsy For Years. Is It Easier to Get Benefits With My Seizure Disorder?
If you have epilepsy, getting approved for disability benefits is usually a little more straightforward. Below are the SSA’s requirements to qualify for disability benefits, according to each seizure type.
What the SSA Looks For If Your Seizure Disorder Causes Generalized Tonic-Clonic Seizures
These must occur at least once each month for 3 months in a row (despite following your doctor’s prescribed treatment). You’ll still fit this criteria if your seizures happen at least once every two months for four months in a row. If the second sentence describes you best, you must also have marked limitation in one of the four mental functioning areas listed above.
What the SSA Looks For If Your Condition Causes Dyscognitive Seizures
These must occur at least once a week for at least 3 consecutive months (despite adherence to prescribed treatment). OR seizures that occur at least once every 2 weeks for 3 consecutive months. And you must have marked limitation in one of the areas of mental functioning.
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
Every disability claim is unique, and the SSA doesn’t have especially clear rules regarding seizures. However, you can get professional help filing your claim from a local Social Security attorney free of charge. All disability lawyers work on contingency, so you’ll never pay anything unless you win benefits. And if your claim does get approved, you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee afterwards.
Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free disability benefits evaluation online now.
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Mandy Voisin is a freelance writer, blogger, and author of Girls of the Ocean and Star of Deliverance. As an accomplished content marketing consultant, mom of four and doctor's wife, Mandy has written hundreds of articles about dangerous drugs and medical devices, medical issues that impact disabled Americans, veterans' healthcare and workers' compensation issues since 2016.