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If you or someone you love is living with multiple sclerosis (MS), you know that every day brings new challenges in mobility and quality of life. With a disease that affects the spinal cord, brain, and optic nerves, this should come as no surprise. And though some people are able to live with this autoimmune disease with few symptoms, others struggle mightily with day-to-day tasks and neurological degeneration.

For many individuals with MS, Social Security Disability benefits can help to cover some of your daily living expenses while you are unable to work due to this disease. But how do you apply for disability benefits for multiple sclerosis? And how do you know if your MS qualifies?

What the SSA Says about Multiple Sclerosis

The Social Security Administration lists Multiple Sclerosis as a chronic illness or impairment in their Blue Book under neurological disorders. Listing 11.09 covers MS in adults.

If you can establish that your MS, and any other impairment(s), meets or equals in severity the MS listing, or any other listing, then you will win at step 3 of the 5-step sequential disability evaluation process for adult disability claims.

The listing for MS mentions “disorganization of motor function in two extremities” which results in “an extreme limitation in the ability to stand up from a seated position, balance while standing or walking, or use the upper extremities.” One also can qualify under the listing if there is a marked limitation in “physical functioning and in one of the following:”

  • understanding, remembering, or applying information;
  • interacting with others;
  • Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pacer; or
  • Adapting or managing oneself.

If, however, your illness(es) do not meet or equal in severity the MS listing or other listing, Social Security will examine your symptoms to determine your residual functional capacity. That is, what you can and cannot do at work based upon the limitations caused by your various illnesses. You must prove that based upon the severity of your symptoms and your residual functional capacity, you can no longer perform what is called your “past relevant work.”

The Different Types of MS and Accompanying Symptoms

There are different types of MS, which can vary in symptoms, severity, and duration of an autoimmune flare of the disease. However, the following symptoms are common with MS:

  • Trouble with walking, balance, and coordination
  • Difficulty with motor skills
  • Vision problems
  • Tremors and/or numbness in extremities
  • Bladder and bowel issues
  • Brain fog, difficulty concentrating or remembering things
  • Hearing loss
  • Slurred or impaired speech
  • Depression
  • Fatigue

Qualifying for Disability Benefits for Multiple Sclerosis

If you have experienced or are expected to experience severe symptoms for a full year, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits and/or SSI disability benefits for multiple sclerosis.

However, there are some important elements of MS to review as part of your SSD application to strengthen your benefits claim.

Medical Diagnosis of MS

Despite the severity of many forms of MS, not everyone with the disease qualifies for Social Security disability benefits. The intensity of one’s symptoms, which can include severe fatigue, may be difficult to prove. That is why it is so important to relay all of your symptoms to your treating medical providers. It is especially important that you also seek out specialists who focus on treating MS. One reason may be that the disease has periods of intense symptoms (flares or episodes) and periods of remission.

Because of this, it can sometimes be challenging to prove the time frame of the disease. It is also degenerative, meaning that it can worsen with time but not present with as many symptoms when it is first diagnosed.

This is why a positive diagnosis from MRIs and spinal taps is crucial for your SSD claim. A doctor’s diagnosis, while important, must be supported by medical evidence.

If you are in the early stages of an MS diagnosis, be sure to document and keep the following for a strong disability claim:

  • Medical records
  • Doctor’s notes
  • Prescriptions, medicines, and therapies
  • Lab work
  • Third party statements of your symptoms (friends, family, bosses, colleagues)

Malignant MS as a Compassionate Allowance

A certain type of MS, called malignant multiple sclerosis, qualifies as a Compassionate Allowance through Social Security. Here’s some information from SSA’s website about Compassionate Allowances:

“Compassionate Allowances are a way to quickly identify diseases and other medical conditions that, by definition, meet Social Security’s standards for disability benefits. These conditions primarily include certain cancers, adult brain disorders, and a number of rare disorders that affect children. The CAL initiative helps us reduce waiting time to reach a disability determination for individuals with the most serious disabilities.

The Compassionate Allowances program identifies claims where the applicant’s disease or condition clearly meets Social Security’s statutory standard for disability. By incorporating cutting-edge technology, the agency can easily identify potential Compassionate Allowances to quickly make decisions. Social Security Administration (SSA) uses the same rules to evaluate CAL conditions when evaluating both Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs.”

Remember, although MS can greatly affect your quality of life, there is still support and assistance through the Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income disability programs. If you or someone you love struggles with MS, consider reaching out to a trusted attorney specializing in Social Security Disability who can help develop and strengthen your Social Security disability claim. We here at the Feingold Law Office would be honored to give you any assistance we can during this difficult disability process.


Richard I. Feingold
Richard I. Feingold & Associates, P.C.
Personal Injury & Social Security Disability