Facial Pain, Trigeminal Neuralgia, and Disability Benefits

It can be bad enough to suffer from frequent, sudden, and intense burning facial pain that can last up to several minutes. But it’s even worse when you are under financial stress because your symptoms are preventing you from sustaining work. If you or a loved one suffers from trigeminal neuralgia, you know how difficult it can be to live and work with this agonizing condition.

The trigeminal nerve is the principal sensory nerve in the face, which passes sensations back and forth between the brain and the different areas of the face. Although science has not been able to completely understand what causes trigeminal neuralgia, the common belief is that when the protective sheath around this nerve deteriorates, it causes the nerve to send abnormal and painful signals to the brain. According to the International RadioSurgery Association, approximately 140,000 people in the U.S. suffer from trigeminal neuralgia, with approximately 14,000 new cases diagnosed annually.

If you are unable to work due to the symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has two programs which may be able to offer financial assistance—Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) for those who have worked in the past and made Social Security contributions, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) designed to help those who are disabled and have little or no income. But to qualify for either program, you have to prove that your impairment is so disabling that it prevents you from being able to work.

If you are unable to work because of symptoms from trigeminal neuralgia, there are several hurdles you have to overcome in order to be granted disability benefits. The Social Security Administration maintains a list of conditions with detailed requirements for when the SSA should find a mental or physical condition to be disabling. If an individual matches the requirements in the listings (also called the “Blue Book”) they automatically qualify for disability payments. However, there is no specific Blue Book listing for trigeminal neuralgia, although some groups and individuals are leading a petition to get Social Security to include this condition in its Blue Book.

A second way to qualify for benefits is when a condition “equals” another listing, orclosely matches the criteria set forth in another medical listing. But specific tests or laboratory findings must confirm how the claimant’s condition matches another listing. Because here is no single test that shows a person definitively has trigeminal neuralgia, most people with this impairment do not qualify for disability by meeting or equaling the criteria in a listing.

There is, however, a third way to qualify for benefits. The SSA also awards disability benefits based on how your condition creates limitations for you and interferes with your ability to work. To qualify, you must demonstrate that your symptoms prevent you from sustaining full-time competitive employment on a consistent and reliable basis. Like all qualifying disabilities, your condition must have lasted or be expected to last and keep you out of work for at least 12 months.

To prove that trigeminal neuralgia prevents you from maintaining fulltime employment, it is important that you discuss your limitations with your doctor. One of the most important pieces of evidence in a disability case is your doctor’s opinion as to why your condition or conditions prevent you from working. The statement from your doctor must be specific and explain your limitations. It can be a form or, better yet, a detailed letter. A statement that you are ‘disabled’ or ‘unable to work,’ for example, is generally not enough.”The SSA will consider your doctor’s opinion along with medical evidence to decide whether or not you qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

If you have other impairments in addition to trigeminal neuralgia, you should also include these in your application for benefits. The Social Security Administration must take into consideration all of your impairments when deciding whether you qualify for disability benefits. (For more on this subject read our blog article: Do Multiple Disabilities Improve the Odds of Receiving Benefits?)

The path to winning Social Security disability benefits can be difficult to navigate, especially while living with a serious health condition. For this reason, you may want a professional Chicagoland disability attorney in your corner to help you through the process and to fight for your rights. Call or email Nash Disability Law for a free evaluation of your situation. We can help you avoid costly disability mistakes.