Shingles is a viral infection caused by the varicella zoster virus, which is the same one that causes chickenpox. After having chickenpox, the virus stays inactive in the body of nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. However, the virus can reactivate later in life and give you shingles. In fact, nearly 1 in 3 Americans will develop shingles later on in their lifetime.
There are vaccines to lower the risk of someone getting shingles. But if you do get it, early treatment can shorten your infection time and reduce your risk for further complications.
Shingles causes a painful rash that can happen anywhere on your body. Most often, it appears as a strip of blisters on the right or left side of your torso. This illness isn’t life-threatening, but it can be very painful and uncomfortable. For this reason, it may make working much more difficult, depending on your job duties. In some cases, the pain may become so severe that it prohibits you from completing daily living tasks.
Does Shingles Automatically Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits?
To qualify for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits, you must be unable to work for at least 12 months or have a terminal illness. Shingles often clears up within a few weeks after symptoms begin. However, it may also cause these related health issues:
- Facial paralysis
- Hearing and/or vision loss
- Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN)
PHN is an especially painful, chronic condition that affects nearly 1 in 5 shingles sufferers (i.e., 18%). It happens when a shingles infection causes viral nerve damage. PHN symptoms include nerve pain, major sensitivity to touch, numbness or weak muscles.
Unfortunately, there is no specific listing in the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Blue Book for postherpetic neuralgia. So if PHN is your main complication, you likely won’t qualify for disability benefits. The closest qualifying impairment in the SSA’s Blue Book is for peripheral neuropathy. This section states that despite following your doctor’s prescribed treatment, you still experience muscle dysfunction in two extremities. If you suffer from one or more of the following complications, then you may still qualify for SSD:
- Difficulty standing up, walking, and using your arms or hands OR
- Limited ability to function physically, AND
- Have a hard time understanding, remembering or applying information/work instructions, OR
- Limited ability to interact with other people, OR
- Difficulty concentrating, persisting or keeping pace with another person, OR
- Have trouble adapting to new work environments or managing yourself/your workload alone.
If you have vision loss as a result of your shingles outbreak, it’s listed in the Blue Book under sections 2.02, 2.03 and 2.04. Blue Book sections 2.07 and 2.10 cover additional side effects, including hearing loss and loss of balance.
Tips That May Help Shingles Sufferers Get SSD Benefits
If you don’t meet the qualifications for Social Security disability specific to peripheral neuropathies, don’t give up! You may still qualify, if you follow these tips:
- Most shingles sufferers are 50 or older. It’s easier to qualify for SSD benefits under the SSA’s “grid rules” specifically for people aged 50+. If the agency believes it’s too hard for you to change jobs, go back to school or learn new skills, your approval chances increase. Definitely apply if you’re over 50!
- About 41% have another qualifying impairment. Type 2 diabetes is fairly common (20%), so be sure to list all health issues on your application!
- About 62% of approved SSD claims list multiple conditions. For this reason, it’s important to list everything your doctor treats on your claim. Include all symptoms, medications, dosages, frequency and their side effects.
The main symptom of PHN is nerve pain, which can be a challenge to successfully prove exists. Provide strong evidence you receive regular PHN treatment (preferably from a neurologist). To do this, submit any medical records, clinic notes, lab tests, hospital records and imaging studies from the last 12 months.
Ask your doctor to fill out a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form addressing:
- How much weight you can lift, push, carry and pull
- How long you can sit, stand and walk
- Any limits you have with reaching, handling or using your fingers
- Limited ability to concentrate or keep focus
- How often you miss work, arrive late, leave early or take unscheduled breaks due to your symptoms
- If you need to sit, lie down or elevate your legs throughout the day
- Treatment side effects (i.e., Do your pain meds make you sleepy or unable to operate equipment?)
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
Applying for disability can take a long time, and just 1 in 5 first-time claimants get benefits. Having someone who understands the ins and outs of the system and what the government looks for can improve those odds. That’s why we strongly recommend getting a free, no-obligation consultation before starting your claim.
Did you know that filing your claim through a Social Security attorney nearly triples your chances to get benefits? Lawyers don’t charge anything up front to review your disability claim or file your paperwork. Instead, they work on contingency. This means that if a lawyer can’t get your claim approved, you pay $0 for legal assistance. And if your case wins, then you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee.
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.