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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.