If you recently suffered a stroke, you may have trouble going back to work again. That’s because strokes are a leading cause of long-term disability and can dramatically reduce your mobility. We’ll explain how strokes occur, when you might qualify for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits and the best way to apply below.
What Happens When You Suffer a Stroke?
A stroke happens when something interrupts the blood flow that normally travels to your brain. Once that blood flow slows or stops, it deprives your brain of oxygen and other key nutrients. The main triggers include a blocked artery (ischemic stroke) or ruptured blood vessel (hemorrhagic stroke). Both types require immediate medical attention. Risk factors for strokes include smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. Because strokes harm your brain, you may suffer life-altering side effects for months, years or the rest of your life. Strokes can affect how you think, learn, feel, move, communicate and even understand other people when they talk to you.
In some cases you may experience life-altering complications after your stroke, such as:
- Difficulty communicating clearly with others
- Trouble swallowing
- Memory loss
- Trouble controlling your emotions
- Physical pain
Next, let’s look at how the Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates disability claims for strokes.
3 Steps to Qualify for Social Security Disability After Your Stroke
Many people who cannot work after their strokes do qualify for disability benefits. Below are the three things every claims examiner looks for before approving your application.
Step 1: Work History
Most people who work full time pay Social Security taxes with every paycheck. These taxes (also known as FICA taxes) cover your monthly federal disability insurance policy premiums. Once you stop working for 60 months in a row (i.e., 5 years), that coverage automatically ends. If you worked at least 5 in the last 10 years full time and paid FICA taxes, you have coverage. Otherwise, the SSA automatically denies your SSD claim.
Step 2: Age & Income
Now, the SSA wants to know if you meet the disability program’s age and income requirements:
- Are you at least 18, but younger than full retirement age? You cannot qualify for SSD benefits if you’re under 18 or are already at least 66 years old (FRA).
- Your monthly income from all sources combined must fall below $1,350 in order to qualify. If you’re still working when you apply for benefits, the SSA will automatically reject your claim. But if you currently receive workers’ comp, alimony, child support or insurance payments, it can’t be more than $1,350/month.
- Do you already receive some Social Security benefits? If you draw early retirement from Social Security, then you cannot qualify for SSD benefits. However, you may potentially qualify for reduced SSD payments if you receive survivor’s or spousal benefits.
Step 3: Medical Evaluation
The SSA evaluates disability claims for strokes under their Blue Book guidelines for Section 11.04 Central Nervous System Vascular Accident. To qualify as disabled, you must have one or more of these stroke side effects for at least 3 months:
- Trouble communicating effectively (i.e., you cannot speak clearly or understand what others say or written words)
- Difficulty standing up, sitting down, walking, maintaining your balance, picking things up, reaching, handling, lifting, pushing or pulling without help
- Trouble remembering or following basic verbal instructions, dealing with changes to your work routine or interacting with other people normally
If you don’t think you can meet those qualifications, we strongly recommend talking to a lawyer before you apply. Most people who get benefits list 2-6 different conditions on their claim forms. Your stroke alone might not qualify as a disability, but several health issues combined present a much stronger case. Finally, there are two more things the SSA looks for before they can approve your claim:
- Does your doctor expect your stroke side effects to last at least 12 months? The SSA cannot award disability benefits for conditions that improve in less than a year. Only permanent or long-term disabilities qualify for benefits as well as certain terminal illnesses, like pancreatic cancer.
- Are you still working? You must prove to the SSA that your stroke forces you to stop working for at least one year. If you can’t do the job you had before your stroke, is there any other work you can do? People with high school diplomas are much more likely to qualify for SSD benefits than those with college degrees. If you’re working part-time, read Do I Have to Quit My Job? to learn more.
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
Having a lawyer file your disability claim almost triples your chances for getting benefits the first time you apply. In fact, a Social Security attorney or advocate may speed up your claim review faster than the usual 3-5 months. These lawyers work on contingency, which means you pay $0 for legal assistance if you don’t win. Most people who apply without legal assistance wait 1-2 years for their first disability payment.
If you can’t go that long without income, sign up for a free, no-obligation consultation today. This means you’ll get a free phone call from the closest lawyer available to help you. You can get free answers to all your claim questions without leaving your house. Unless that lawyer helps you win benefits, you pay nothing for legal assistance. And if you do 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.