Peripheral neuropathy is a form of damage to the peripheral nerves located outside the brain and spinal cord. It is caused by a variety of medical conditions, the most common being diabetes – thus it is often referred to as diabetic neuropathy or diabetic peripheral neuropathy. It is estimated that up to 50% of people with diabetes develop diabetic neuropathy.
Diabetic peripheral neuropathy can affect many bodily functions, though it most often affects the nerves in the lower extremities, leading to pain, numbness, and weakness in the legs and feet. For some, the effects of diabetic neuropathy are mild; for others, they are debilitating.
If you were diagnosed with diabetic peripheral neuropathy and are unable to work, you may be eligible to receive social security disability (SSD) benefits. Watch our videos for more information.
Diabetic neuropathy and social security disability
The Social Security Administration (SSA) is the federal agency that administers the SSD program. Social security disability provides monthly benefits to individuals whose disability or medical condition leaves them unable to engage in substantial gainful activity; in 2022, the SSA considers an applicant engaged in gainful activity if they earn more than $1,350 per month, or $2,260 for statutorily blind individuals. The condition must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least 12 months or to result in death. Thus, disability benefits are paid only for total disability; individuals with a short-term disability are ineligible.
The SSA Blue Book contains more than 100 medical conditions that the SSA considers disabling, provided the applicant meets the specific criteria for each listing. The Blue Book lists diabetes as an endocrine disorder; however, eligibility is determined by evaluating applicants based on the effects diabetes has on other body systems. That means a diagnosis of diabetes in and of itself is typically insufficient to qualify for disability benefits. Instead, you must be able to prove that diabetes affects another major bodily function or that it is uncontrollable through medication and/or lifestyle changes.
In the case of diabetic peripheral neuropathy, the SSA will evaluate your disability under Section 11 of the Blue Book. To be eligible for SSD benefits based on a diagnosis of diabetic neuropathy, you must be able to prove that the condition results in one of the following:
- Disorganization of motor function in two limbs that results in an extreme limitation in the ability to either:
- Stand up from a seated position
- Balance while standing
- Use your arms
- Marked limitation in your physical functioning and an inability to do one or more of the following:
- Understand, remember, or apply information. Examples include understanding, learning, and following instructions; describing work activities; recognizing and correcting mistakes, and; using reason and judgment to make work-related decisions.
- Interact with others. Examples include asking for help when needed; handling conflicts; initiating or carrying on a conversation; understanding and responding to social cues, and; responding to requests, suggestions, criticism, and correction without excessive irritability, sensitivity, or argumentativeness.
- Concentrate, persist, or maintain pace. Examples include working at an appropriate pace and completing tasks in a timely manner; changing activities or working close to others without being disruptive; sustaining regular attendance at work, and; not needing to take more than the allotted number and/or length of rest periods.
- Adapt or manage oneself. Examples include responding to demands and adapting to changes; managing psychological symptoms; setting realistic goals; maintaining work-appropriate hygiene and attire, and; awareness of hazards and the ability to take appropriate precautions to avoid them.
Your application and medical records must support your claims that the diabetic peripheral neuropathy makes you unable to work. This should include not just the diagnosis, but current and past medications and treatments (including those you tried and abandoned because they did not alleviate symptoms or caused other issues), dietary and physical restrictions, any diagnostic or laboratory testing, as well as notes by your treating physician, therapist, nutritionist, or other medical provider.
The application should also include a medical source statement completed by your treating physician. A medical source statement includes much of the information listed above, but also specifically allows your physician to include information about your functional capabilities and deficits as they relate to your job. This is important because medical records typically only information that relates to the medical side of the neuropathy, and nothing about how it affects the ability to perform activities of daily living.
Without information regarding how peripheral neuropathy affects your mental and physical functioning, the SSA will hire and assign a medical consultant to evaluate your file and determine the extent to which the neuropathy interferes with your ability to work. As you can imagine, these consultants are less than impartial, so it is in your best interest to have information from your treating physician on the impact the neuropathy has on your daily life.
Residual functional capacity and diabetic peripheral neuropathy
If your diabetic peripheral neuropathy isn’t severe enough to meet the SSA’s criteria, you may still qualify for disability benefits under a medical-vocational allowance. In these cases, the SSA will look at your residual functional capacity to determine whether you can work. Residual functional capacity – that is, what tasks and daily activities you can do despite your disability – looks at your entire medical record and determines whether the combined effect of all your medical conditions make you unable to work.
For example, you may not fully meet the SSA’s criteria for diabetic peripheral neuropathy because you have marked limitation in only physical functioning. But, if in addition to diabetic neuropathy you suffer from anxiety and depression, the combined effects of these three conditions may leave you unable to work and eligible for disability benefits. The Good Law Group has successfully obtained SSD benefits for clients with diabetic neuropathy by proving at an administrative hearing that the client was unable to work due to the combined effects of her neuropathy, depression, anxiety, and other medical conditions.
The Good Law Group has more than 30 years’ experience helping clients obtain social security disability benefits at all stages of the application process. We offer free case consultations and, if we accept your case, we don’t receive payment unless you are awarded benefits. Call us at 847-577-4476 or 800-419-7606 to schedule an appointment.