Important: We updated this article in January 2023 to make sure all info below is both current and correct. Neuropathy is a painful nerve damage condition that affects about 1 in 4 Americans at some point during their lives. One common type called peripheral neuropathy causes numbness, tingling, and pain. Neuropathy most often affects your hands and feet, which may make it difficult for you to perform your assigned work duties. Thankfully, the Social Security Administration (SSA) lists neuropathy in its Blue Book for evaluating disability claims. If your doctor says that you have it, we’ll explain how to get Social Security disability benefits for neuropathy.
Other, similar conditions that may also limit your ability to work enough to support yourself include:
- Cranial neuropathy
- Autonomic neuropathy
- Focal neuropathy
Things to Know Before Filing Your Social Security Disability Benefits for Neuropathy Claim
The SSA does award Social Security disability benefits for neuropathy if you meet all technical and medical screenings. Before the SSA reviews your medical history, they’ll check to see if you can first meet all these requirements:
- You must have enough Social Security work credits to qualify. If you’re more than 30 years old, you need 20 work credits. This means you worked at least 5 in the last 10 years while paying Social Security payroll taxes.
- Only people not currently getting any Social Security benefits can qualify. People already drawing early retirement, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or regular Social Security cannot get SSD benefits.
- Your health issue(s) must make you unable to work for at least 12 months in a row. If you’re still working when you apply for disability benefits, the SSA will likely reject your claim. While the SSA says anyone earning more than $1,470 per month cannot receive benefits, working also proves you’re not truly disabled.
What Can Cause Neuropathic Nerve Damage Bad Enough to Qualify for Benefits?
At least 20 million people in the U.S. have some form of neuropathy, according to the NIH. But many others may also have this painful health issue without even knowing it. We’ve ranked the things that lead to this type of painful nerve damage from most to least common below:
- Diabetes (60%-70% of people with this disease have peripheral neuropathy).
- HIV+ individuals (affects 30% of people with HIV).
- Chemotherapy drugs and radiation treatments (affects 30%-40% of cancer patients).
- Metabolic syndrome (i.e., high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes).
- Traumatic injuries (i.e., serious falls, car accidents, bone breaks, sports injuries).
- Autoimmune disorders (i.e., lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Guillain-Barré syndrome, Sjogren’s syndrome).
- Work-related repetitive stress injuries (i.e., carpal tunnel syndrome, sciatica).
- Certain infections (i.e., West Nile virus, herpes, syphilis, chickenpox, shingles, Epstein-Barr, Lyme disease, hepatitis C).
- Blood clots and other vascular or circulatory disorders (i.e., vasculitis, peripheral artery disease, chronic venous insufficiency).
- Kidney and liver diseases or injuries.
- Chronic vitamin deficiencies from alcoholism (specifically, vitamin E, B1, B12, B6, thiamine, and niacin).
- Heavy metal poisoning.
- Hypothyroidism (which may also include Hashimoto’s patients).
- Certain hereditary disorders (i.e., Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, familial amyloidosis, Fabry disease, metachromatic leukodystrophy).
What Will the SSA Look for In Evaluating Your Neuropathy Symptoms?
The SSA’s nearest Disability Determination Services (DDS) office will examine your medical evidence and claim paperwork. This review determines if your neuropathy symptoms stop you from working for at least one year. If the DDS agrees your symptoms make you unable to work enough to support yourself, then you may receive monthly benefits. Here’s what they will look for when they receive your claim:
- Your symptoms don’t get better, despite regular treatments from your doctor. If you haven’t seen a doctor in a while, it will only hurt your case.
- You have involuntary movements in at least two different limbs (arms or legs).
- It’s hard or impossible for you to stand up from a seated position without help.
- You have trouble keeping your balance while standing or walking.
- Muscle weakness, twitching, cramps, numbness, or paralysis make doing your required job duties difficult or impossible.
- You have other symptoms that make it hard to hold down your usual job. Think: Fainting, dropping things because your hands go numb, being unable to sit or stand as required, etc.
- You cannot grasp, pick up, or carry certain objects or lose fine motor skills needed for your job. For example: You’re a cook who cannot whisk, stir, peel, or dice foods as usual, or plate dishes.
If 2-3 of these bullet points describe your situation, then you’re far more likely to get Social Security benefits for neuropathy.
What Medical Evidence Best Supports Your Neuropathy Claim?
Your application isn’t enough to get you Social Security disability benefits for neuropathy. The SSA wants to see your medical records, treatment notes and tests from the past 12 months. These documents will best support your case to receive Social Security disability benefits for neuropathy:
- Nerve conduction velocity (NCV) test results.
- Electromyography (EMG) test results.
- Autonomic tests (such as the QSART) showing how well your arms and legs sweat.
- MRIs, CT scans or muscle and nerve ultrasound imaging reports.
- Nerve and/or skin biopsies.
- Neurological exam results from your doctor or a licensed rheumatologist.
- Quantitative sensory test (OST) results.
- Bloodwork showing any related vitamin deficiencies, toxic metal poisoning, high blood sugar (if you have diabetes), etc.
- Genetic test results showing your neuropathy is hereditary.
- Electroencephalography (EEG) test results.
- Complete list of medications you currently take, including dosage and how often you take each one.
- A Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form your doctor completes and signs.
- A symptom diary where you track how your neuropathy limits your daily activities.
Bonus Tip: Be sure to include all your health problems and take medication for on your application. People with 3-5 health issues are far more likely to get benefits than those with just one condition.
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
Having a Social Security attorney file your claim triples your chances of winning benefits. A disability lawyer can help you file your initial claim, gather all medical documents and handle your appeal, if needed. Every lawyer we can connect you with for claim help charges nothing up front. If you don’t win, then you pay $0 for legal help. And if you win, then you’ll only pay one small fee.
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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.