Worry is a common, normal part of life that everybody feels at some point. Usually these worries – whether it’s about a loved one’s health, downsizing at work, or even if that offer on your dream house will be accepted – are temporary and disappear once the worrying event is over.
For people with an anxiety disorder, however, worrying thoughts can be far from normal. They are often outsized in comparison to the worrying event and, rather than disappear or lesson can intensify. The anxiety can become so bad that it interferes with the ability to participate in regular daily activities, work or school, and even relationships. For some, the anxiety is so debilitating that they’re unable to leave their home.
If you have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder that interferes with your ability to work, you may be eligible to receive social security disability (SSD) benefits. Disability benefits are monthly benefits paid to individuals who have a qualifying medical condition expected to last at least 12 months and that interferes with their ability to participate in substantial gainful activity (in 2022, that is the ability to earn $1,350 or more per month).
However, qualifying for disability benefits for anxiety is difficult. That’s because unlike medical conditions such as heart disease, cancer, or other physical ailments, there is no objective test to verify the existence or severity of an individual’s anxiety. Without an MRI, CT scan, X-ray, ultrasound, or other diagnostic test, the severity of an applicant’s anxiety is purely subjective. What is manageable for one person with medication and/or therapy can be intolerable for another, even with the same supports – and it is the job of the disability examiner to determine whether those subjective elements are disabling to qualify for benefits.
Though difficult, it is possible to successfully obtain disability benefits for anxiety. This can be done by either meeting or exceeding the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) criteria for anxiety or through a medical-vocational allowance.
Qualifying for disability benefits under the Social Security Administration’s anxiety listing
The SSA is the federal agency that manages the disability benefits program. The SSA maintains a listing of more than 100 medical conditions that can qualify an individual for disability benefits, providing the applicant meets the established criteria for the specific condition. Known as the Blue Book, section 12.06 deals with Anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders.
To qualify for SSD benefits under this listing, you must be able to prove, through treatment notes from your psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, and/or physician, as well as personal statements regarding the impact anxiety has on your daily life, that you suffer from at least one of the following:
- Anxiety disorder, with the presence of at least three of the following:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Easily fatigued
- Sleep disturbance
- Panic disorder or agoraphobia, with the presence of either:
- Panic attacks, followed by a fear of having subsequent panic attacks, or
- Disproportionate fear or anxiety about two or more different situations, such as using public transportation, standing in line, being in a crowded space, or leaving your home.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder, with the presence of either:
- Involuntary, time-consuming preoccupation with intrusive, unwanted thoughts, or
- Repetitive behaviors aimed at decreasing anxiety.
In addition to proving you have an anxiety, panic, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, you must also be able to prove – again, through treatment notes and statements included in your application about how the anxiety affects your daily life – that the disorder causes at least one of the following:
- An extreme limitation of your ability to perform one, or marked limitation in your ability to perform two, of the following:
- Understand, remember, or apply information
- Interact with others
- Concentrate, persist, or maintain pace
- Adapt or manage yourself
- Serious and persistent anxiety, characterized as having lasted at least two years, and:
- Participation in ongoing treatment diminishes the signs and symptoms of the disorder, and
- You have minimal capacity to adapt to environmental changes beyond your daily life.
As we discussed above, most applicants who apply for disability benefits based on an anxiety disorder will be denied, since the severity is subjective. However, The Good Law Group has successfully obtained benefits for clients based on their anxiety disorder at the administrative hearing (appeal) level. Attorney Good was able to show that our client’s anxiety met or exceeded the SSA’s listed criteria. In addition, he was able to show that in addition to anxiety, his client suffered several other medical conditions that, when viewed together with her anxiety, made her unable to work.
Qualifying for disability benefits for anxiety with a medical-vocational allowance
The SSA’s criteria to obtain benefits for anxiety are extremely hard to meet. For example, you may be limited in your ability to understand information, concentrate, adapt, or interact with others. However, if you cannot prove that those limitations are marked in at least two of those areas, or extreme in one, your application will be denied. If your anxiety is not severe enough to meet the SSA’s criteria, it is still possible to be approved for disability benefits through a medical-vocational allowance.
The medical-vocational allowance looks at your residual functional capacity – that is, the work-related tasks and activities of daily living you can perform despite your disability. The SSA will consider the physical and mental limitations you face due to your anxiety. This consideration includes not just how the anxiety itself affects your ability to manage day-to-day tasks, but also how your treatment may impact your ability to work.
For example, untreated anxiety may limit your ability to understand information and concentrate, but it may not be considered a marked limitation, which is what the SSA criteria require. However, a side effect of the medication you take to manage your anxiety could worsen your ability to understand information and concentrate, bringing it to the level of a marked or even extreme limitation, either of which would meet the SSA’s criteria.
The Good Law Group has more than 30 years of experience handling social security disability benefits cases. Call us at 800-419-7606 to schedule a free case consultation. If we accept your case, there is no fee unless you are awarded benefits.