How Can I Get Disability for Chronic Migraines? Tips for Approval

A few mornings ago, I was sipping coffee and taking care of bills online when I noticed a large sum deposited into my checking account. My foggy brain dismissed it as a banking mistake and I went on with my day. Hours later it hit me that the deposit had the abbreviation “Soc Sec” next to it .  I had been approved for disability and was awarded back pay!

Can I get disability for chronic migraines?

I applied for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) four months ago and was not optimistic.  I was not expecting to get news so quickly, and I was really not expecting to be approved. The lady from my local Social Security office told me that it would take at least 6 months for me to get an initial answer. The horror stories I came across online  told me that the initial answer would most likely be a refusal. Only 30-35% of applicants are approved on the first try, and the appeals process can take years.

Getting disability for my condition, chronic migraines, is tough. Every migraine sufferer knows all too well how disabling migraines can be. On top of the severe head pain, migraines bring a lot of fun symptoms like nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, sound sensitivity, vertigo, cognitive impairment, and many, many more.  Even so, the Social Security Administration does not include chronic migraines on the list of conditions automatically awarded benefits.

Why, then, was I approved so quickly?

I’m sure luck had something to do it, but I also did my research and worked hard to ensure that my application included everything the Disability Determination Office requires  for an approval.

 Most people who apply for disability are eventually approved, even if they were initially rejected. The following tips helped me get approved on the first try, eliminating the need for a lawyer and a lengthy appeal process.

  1. Take your time. Filling out 30+ pages of paperwork about how sick you are is pretty terrible and even worse on a high pain day. Make time for the application when you are feeling good, whatever good means for you and your illness. I filled out my application slowly over a few days, sometimes spending a whole morning on just a few questions. Do not be afraid to take breaks to give your brain a rest. Providing detailed answers require focus that can be draining.
  2. Focus on your disability, not your illness. You do not have to prove that you are sick; rather, you have to prove that your illness affects your ability to do tasks required to work. Focus on how your daily task and how they are affected by your illness rather than on your pain or your illness itself. Avoid vague statements like, “I wake up in pain every day” in favor of something like, “Getting dressed and bathing in the morning takes twice as long and requires twice as much energy because I wake up in pain.”
  3. Pretend the person reading your application has never heard of your illness or chronic illness in general. I made sure to include every single symptom, even the minor ones, under the assumption that the person reading my application has never heard of a migraine. I also made sure to explain that my chronic pain has a cumulative effect. I was clear about how my symptoms affect my daily tasks on both bad days and good days. I made sure the reviewer understood that my condition is chronic and unpredictable, and what that means for holding down a job.
  4. Enlist your doctor. Documentation of your illness and your doctor’s recommendation are very important for approval. Make sure you doctor is supportive of your disability claim before you apply. If you do end up appealing later on, your doctor will need to be even more involved. If your doctor seems unwilling to support your claim, find a new doctor who does. Even if it means delaying your claim, finding a supportive doctor can save you the time and stress of appeals.
  5. Get help from a friend. Having someone close to you on hand is helpful for remembering dates, gathering medical records, offering moral support, etc. Enlist a family member or friend to help you, but do not let them fill out the application for you. No one knows your symptoms or your abilities better than you.
  6. Be brutally honest. A lot of chronic pain sufferers tend to downplay their pain just to make it through the day, and I am no exception. The disability application, however, is not the place for bravery. Be truthful about how your daily life is affected by your pain or illness. Spell out your days hour by hour and be brutally honest about the tasks that give you difficulty or that you are no longer able to perform.
  7. Do not neglect your work history. Once the Social Security office determines that you are indeed sick, they have to make sure there is no job on the market that you could reasonably perform. It is important to include the various aspects of each past job you have held.
  8. Don’t give up! If your claim is rejected, keep on fighting! More than 60% of disability hearings end up awarding benefits to the claimant. Most people who file are eventually approved as long as they are persistent. Applying for disability is an icky, bureaucratic process filled with paperwork, but it is worth it for the freedom of an income.


10 thoughts on “How Can I Get Disability for Chronic Migraines? Tips for Approval

  1. So proud of you Angie. I am so proud of you and your determination. You have an amazing ability to provide a very descriptive and visual picture of your struggles. In the midst of all those uncontrollable things in your body, you are truely and sincerely one of the strongest women that I have ever met. Keep being you, because you are absolutely amazing. Hugs and Love to you always!!?,

  2. I was linked here from reddit, and I just wanted to give you an internet hug and congratulate you on getting through a harrowing and daunting task and process that consumes the thoughts and worries of so very many disabled Americans.

    I am dealing with the worst debilitating pain of my life (I’m 30 and need a double hip replacement as well as a herniated disc from untreated scoliosis as a child), and have found my previously productive and fulfilling life thrust into a turmoil of hopelessness and frustration as I lose my ability to walk and function as I used to. It’s left me unable to work let alone barely take care of myself.

    But I’m commenting in regards to my mother-in-law, who selflessly pitched in to help take care of my younger son while my husband takes a second job to help support us and I do everything in my power to cope with my chronic pain and illness. She, too, has debilitating and prohibitive migraines that she has spent decades treating and living with – how she is able to carry on even with the increased responsibility of helping us out is a blessing and amazes me. I know now, more than ever, that she goes through unimaginable pain that has stripped her of enjoying so much about life, and yet she bravely continues to be an amazing mother to her son as well as help me and our youngest child get through this difficult and trying time.

    That you were able to get the benefits to help you and yours as you navigate the perilous US healthcare system is inspiring and gives me hope that there are brighter times ahead for my entire family, but it makes me personally happy for you because I know what a weight must have been lifted from your shoulders to hear that news.

    I send all my best wishes and prayers to you and hope you can continue to overcome obstacles and enjoy as much as you can about life while living with the literal nightmare that is migraines, chronic illness, and chronic pain.

  3. Angie, I am so glad to hear that you got accepted for disability and hope the next news I hear that you get better. My thoughts and prayers are always with you.

  4. Would it be better if I’m not currently working ? Because I’m working tryna hold on to my income. I have margarines and carpal tunnel.

    1. As I understand it, it is better if you aren’t working, because you are trying to show SSA that you are too sick to work. That is a harder argument to make if your are currently working. But that obviously puts us in a super tough position, because having no income while you wait for disability is really tough/not an option for a lot of people. You can look into FMLA to get paid leave for work, or you can see if your state has a temporary disability program. I collected temporary disability through my state while waiting for federal disability. I am not a lawyer or expert – just someone who has been through it. This website has more information on filing for disability for chronic migraines:

      Good luck!

  5. I had my hearing in Oct.. just heard back, denied again. Despite the occupation lady saying that I could not hold a job with my limitations, despite the log showing 3-5 migraines a week & the last one for 3 weeks & 200 pills with no relief. The judge said that because I refused an injection in my spine (for 2 herniated disks in my lumbar) my pain must not be that bad anywhere, therefor I am not disabled. lol. I told her then I’ve had a history of reactions to steroid injections like that & so I opted for therapy for my back 1st. I can’t take pain medications due to narcotic allergy. This lady even went as far as to say even though say I’ve has asthma since childhood, my lungs are always reported clear. Well, I’ve had my asthma under control for a good 5 years now. If she knew anything about it, she would also know your lungs sound normal unless you are having an attack WTH? So I am faking everything from migraines, herniated disks, degenerative spine disease (which I didn’t apply for) to asthma (also something I didn’t apply for.) They put in my denial that it was because I refused the steroid injection lol. Sigh. Anyone get denied but win when they appealed with the council?

    1. I am so sorry to hear about your experience. It is so infurariating when our very real, debilitating pain isn’t recognized. I feel for you. I don’t have personal experience with appeals but there is a facebook group called headsUP Migraine that focuses on Migraine disability. You might want to try asking there for resources. Best of luck to you, K., I hope you get the support you need and deserve.

  6. I suffer from cronic migraines.Ihave to have nerve blocks.Botox.Pills.Iam so tired of being sick an beining denied my benefits.

    1. I am incredibly sorry you’re caught in the wheel. The pain and illness are hard enough without financial worries on top of it. I really hope you find some relief soon.

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