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Social Security Disability and Invisible Illnesses

In this day and age, it is exceedingly difficult to apply for Disability Insurance () and prevail on your first application. The system is complex and more than many people can handle alone. It also tends to be friendlier to those with “visible” illnesses or disabilities, such as muscular dystrophy, Down syndrome or spina bifida. If you have an “invisible” disability like autism or schizophrenia, you may face an even more uphill battle.

To determine whether someone is eligible for SSDI, the requirements are few, at least as stated. They are:

  • Having worked in jobs where Social Security was taken out of your paycheck;
  • Having a medical condition that meets the Social Security Administration (SSA)’s definition of “disability”;
  • That disability must have existed for at least one year previous to your application; and
  • You must not make above a certain income threshold, or you are considered “gainfully employed” and thus ineligible.

While this list appears short, in practice there may be many more roadblocks than this, regardless of what disability you are living with. The determination of whether your condition meets the SSA’s definition of “disabled” can be long and arduous. Part of the SSA’s determination is figuring out whether your condition is ‘severe’, which is an extremely subjective standard. Eventually only about 40% of applicants will qualify.

Invisible Illnesses: Working Harder

While anyone who applies for SSDI is behind the proverbial eight-ball in terms of proving that they cannot work (or at least, cannot work in the same manner as they could before they became disabled), those with illnesses not visible to the eye face additional difficulties. Skepticism is rampant in society already, and the adjudicators at the SSA are not immune. Many patients experience doubt and gaslighting from their doctors, which can affect their chances at SSDI – after all, extensive medical records are required to thoroughly prove the existence of an illness, and if it cannot be seen, the paperwork is often the only way to get that proof.

Very often, sufferers of invisible illnesses will also experience more difficult social and financial circumstances than those with visible impairments, especially if their SSDI case drags on for months and/or years. Fewer employers, for example, are willing to work with someone who may have a mental illness (perhaps the most common type of invisible disability) than with someone who has a physical impairment. Fewer opportunities to work leads to both penury and social isolation, in extreme circumstances. Or, if your case reaches adjudication, it is more likely that expert witness testimony or affidavits will vary in terms of the characterization of your illness. An invisible illness cannot be experienced by the treating physician in the same way as, say, the loss of a limb, and thus is harder to pin down as “severe” or not severe.

One other thing to be aware of is that if your doctor is so skeptical that it amounts to denial of care, it may be actionable. Failure to diagnose or treat is a commonly accepted cause of action, and if it does come to that, it may be persuasive if you are able to get SSDI while under another doctor’s care.

A Professional Can Help

If you are in need of help to obtain disability benefits, the attorneys at the can be there. We have years of experience in Social Security law, and we are happy to consult with you and offer options. Contact our City offices today.