Spinal cord injuries will affect many people in Chicago this year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates between 12,000 and 20,000 new spinal cord injuries occur annually. These injuries can cause physical complications, such as paralysis, and psychological issues, such as depression.
Spinal cord injuries can be costly. The CDC estimates the average lifetime cost of an injury ranges from $500,000 to $3 million. These costs can be especially burdensome when an injury victim no longer can work. Fortunately, Social Security Disability benefits may be available to individuals with qualifying spinal cord injuries.
Spinal cord injuries are included in the Social Security Administration’s “Blue Book” of impairment listings. People who provide sufficient medical evidence of a disabling condition listed in the Blue Book automatically qualify for disability benefits. The SSA accepts medical imaging, treatment records and statements from the treating physician as evidence.
The Blue Book recognizes spinal cord injuries that involve nerve root compromise resulting in at least one of these effects:
- Limited spinal motion
- Loss of muscle strength and control, accompanied by loss of reflex or sensation
Someone who has suffered a spinal cord injury without nerve root compression may still qualify for benefits. The SSA must determine that the individual’s symptoms and functional limitations are comparable to those associated with the Blue Book listing.
Some spinal cord injury victims fail to meet the above criteria but are incapable of working. These individuals may receive disability benefits through a medical vocational allowance. However, the SSA will carefully evaluate whether the individual can perform “substantial gainful activity,” which is defined as employment yielding over $1,070 per month.
Most spinal cord injuries preclude some forms of work, but people with incomplete injuries may perform some jobs with adaptive devices. For instance, someone with paraplegia might be considered capable of sedentary work. However, individuals who have retained some motor control may still qualify for disability benefits, if other effects of the injury preclude employment.
Disabling side effects
Spinal cord injuries can cause various systemic complications. Injury victims may develop respiratory or circulatory issues, or they may lose bowel and bladder control. A spinal cord injury may lead to weight loss, reduced muscle tone and health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle. All of these health issues can make gainful employment difficult.
Spinal cord injuries can also promote mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and chronic pain. These conditions may prevent an individual from focusing on work, mastering a new job or working successfully with others. People experiencing these issues, which may be harder to document than physical injuries, should consider working with an attorney when preparing to apply for disability benefits.