Important: We updated this article in August 2023 to make sure all info below is correct. 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.
Stroke Risk Factors You Should Know
Risk factors for strokes include:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- AB blood type
- Sleep apnea
- Kidney disease
- Hormonal birth control pills
- Migraine headaches
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. 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 benefits. Below are the three things every claims examiner looks for before awarding you these payments.
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 coverage. 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 age and income requirements:
- Are you at least 18, but younger than 67? You cannot qualify for SSD benefits if you’re under 18 or are already drawing early or regular retirement from Social Security.
- Your monthly income from all sources combined must fall below $1,470 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 $1,470 every 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 might qualify for reduced SSD payments if you receive survivor 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, you must have one or more of these stroke side effects for at least 3 months:
- Trouble communicating well with others (i.e., you cannot speak clearly, understand what others say, or communicate through writing)
- 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 as expected
Important: Because many people recover from minor strokes after a few months, the SSA won’t review your claim for 90 days after you file. So, we suggest you talk to a lawyer for free before you apply.
Pro Tip: Most people who get benefits list 2-6 different conditions on their claim forms. Listing health issues will present a much stronger case.
Finally, there are two more things the SSA looks at before they can award you payments:
- Does your doctor expect your stroke side effects to last at least 12 months? The SSA cannot award benefits if you’ll get better in less than a year.
- 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, can you do other work? People with high school diplomas are much more likely to get SSD benefits than those with college degrees. If you’re working part-time, read Do I Have to Quit My Job? to learn more.
How to Get Expert Claim Help Free of Charge
Having a lawyer file your disability claim almost triples your chances for getting benefits. In fact, a Social Security attorney may speed up the process faster than the usual 3-5 months’ wait time. These lawyers work on contingency, which means you pay $0 unless your case wins.
Most people who apply without a lawyer go 1-2 years with no income at all. And just 35% of people who apply ever get benefits.
Want a nearby SSD expert to call and answer your questions for free? Click the button below to start your free online benefits quiz now and see if you may qualify:
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.