Winning a Degenerative Disc Disease Case

MRI for disc injuryDegenerative disc disease (DDD) is one of the most common conditions leading people to apply for SSDI benefits.   Your spine’s discs provide a ‘cushioning effect’ between the spine vertebrae.  DDD occurs when your discs shrink, thus reducing this “cushion.”   Experiencing pain, which can be severe, when sitting or standing for extended periods of time, is common among people with degenerative disc disorder.  While this pain may be intermittent for some people, who are able to work, others experience severe and chronic pain which makes them unable to work.

SSDI claims based on DDD can be difficult to win, especially for people who are younger than 40 or 50 (the younger you are, the more challenging your claim will be).   Why?  In my experience there are two main factors:

1)  Many claims do not contain sufficient objective evidence of severe DDD in the form of MRI or CT scan records; and

2) Social Security decision makers – adjudicators and judges – consider DDD to be a common, often mild and often treatable condition.  Many patients do not meet the duration requirement that a disabling impairment is expected to last for 12 months or more.   While discs do not re-generate spontaneously, pain and activity limitations may subside with physical therapy, anti-inflammatory treatments, or for no particular reason at all.  In other words, a diagnosis of degenerative disc disease does not mean that you are disabled and thus automatically eligible for SSDI benefits.

What the SSA Looks for in Evaluating DDD Cases

When the SSA reviews your disability application for DDD, it looks at your medical records (from your doctor) for:

  1. treatment notes stating your diagnosis, and
  2. objective evidence (imagery) of disc deterioration from x-ray reports, CAT scans, or MRIs. Continue reading

How I Use my Client’s Work History to Win Disability Cases

work history + credibilityMany of my clients Many of my clients are curious about why my staff and I spend so much time learning about their work history.  After all, Social Security seems mainly focused on medical problems.  They want to know who your doctors are and they will even send you out for consultative evaluations with physical medicine doctors and psychologists.

It turns out that when your case gets to a Social Security administrative law judge, your work background takes on added significance.  Here’s why and here’s what you can do to make your case stronger using this knowledge:

First, understand that Social Security’s definition of disability focuses primarily on your capacity to work.  SSA defines the term disabled as the inability to perform substantial gainful activity because of a medical condition or conditions that has lasted or is expected to last 12 consecutive months, or result in death.

Substantial gainful activity is defined by Social Security as work or work-like activity.  From your judge’s perspective, he is trying to determine if you could perform a simple, one or two step, entry level job.

Second, judges base a lot of decisions on whether they conclude that you are credible and believable.  Remember that your judge may see 15 to 20 claimants each week and each and every one of those claimants is asserting the same thing – “I do not have the capacity to perform even a simple, unskilled, entry level job.”  How do you stand out from that crowd?