The Job Accommodation Network estimates that 157 million workdays are lost in the U.S. annually due to migraines. However, the Social Security Administration does not list migraines as a disability. That doesn’t mean you won’t qualify for benefits, but it does mean you need to be ready to produce documentation supporting your claim, and be willing to appeal if denied.
It sounds like a lot of work, but if you are unable to maintain full-time employment due to migraines, obtaining additional funding through Social Security can ease the stress somewhat. Migraines can be an expensive problem. Freaking out about debt can make the pain worse. If you or a loved one can get financial security, some of that tension will go away.
Let’s look at the Social Security Administration guidelines for disability determinations for migraines, the types of disability available, how to speak to your employer about your migraines, and how to apply for disability.
Social Security Disability Guidelines
Although the SSA does not have a standard disability listing for migraines, it can still approve benefits if you are a chronic sufferer. Your primary proof must be that you are unable to maintain a full-time job and earn a gainful living due to the limitations caused by migraines. The SSA has several considerations.
- They consider the frequency and severity of your migraines.
- They account for your daily limitations.
- They review your medical evidence.
- They examine your options for employment.
If you are unable to perform the essential job duties of any employment for which you are qualified, you may be considered medically eligible for Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) or SSI benefits.
Note that the SSA will consider any and all jobs you are qualified to work, not just the job you have currently or the one you desire. If you are in manufacturing and cannot work on the shop floor, you must prove you are also unable to perform a sedentary job or other activity as well.
Types of Disability
Disability is available through the Social Security Administration and also through many employers as part of the health insurance package.
- Short-term disability - covers 90 days of paid time off. Migraineurs may be able to use this for recovery or trying new treatments. Payments may be used at your own discretion, such as new treatments or medication, and to pay for living expenses while you are not working.
- Long-term disability - covers after 90 days off work. Typically, it covers a percentage of salary from 50% to 75% while you are on medical leave. Eligibility requirements differ between employers and plans.
- Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) - besides disability from your employer, the Federal Government offers disability. You may be required to apply for it along with your employer benefits. Recipients of SSDI are also eligible for Medicare, and upon retirement, earnings go towards Social Security retirement income. This can increase your retirement income if you stop working at a younger age because of disability.
Speak with your employer about migraine disability. Because it is not listed in the Social Security guidelines, you will need to educate your employer with materials from your physician. Provide specific examples of where a migraine made it difficult or impossible to perform your job. Ease the way by offering ideas for adjusting your job duties to allow you to fulfill them easier.
The Migraine Trust has a reasonable adjustment template to help you come up with a solution.
How to Apply
The review process is a bit lengthy, and the application is just the beginning. You will be required to fill out a functional report questionnaire you receive in the mail. You must return it within 10 days of the date it was mailed to you (as opposed to the date you received it).
If your migraines make it difficult to comply with documentation, enlist an SSA representative, friend, family member, Social Security disability advocate, or an attorney to assist you. The SSA will want to see at least three months of data to prove the migraines are chronic, frequent, and severe. Be specific about your limitations. Meticulous records optimize your chances of being qualified immediately or on the first appeal.
- Prepare for the functional questionnaire by keeping a migraine diary and writing notes about your daily challenges.
- List tasks others must assist with because you are unable to perform them alone.
- Monitor the frequency and severity of migraine attacks as well as the length of time it takes to recover sufficiently to return to work.
- Include migraine triggers if you have identified them.
Speak with your primary care physician about your plans to apply for disability so the office can help you gather your medical records. There is no list of essential medical evidence required by the SSA, but they like to see the following files.
- The method your physician used to diagnose your migraines, typically all tests performed to rule out other conditions.
- Imaging scans from MRI and CT if performed.
- Medications prescribed by the physician and their effects.
- A list of symptoms, notes from your physician, and from other medical professionals you have consulted, such as emergency room personnel or specialists.
You will also need a longitudinal report that includes your diagnosis, symptoms, frequency, and duration of migraines, prescription medications, and other treatments.
As we mentioned before, you may not be qualified the first time you apply, but don’t let a denial set you back. Continue to keep detailed records and updated medical files for your appeal. If you have other chronic medical problems besides migraines, the SSA may determine the cumulative effect renders you disabled.
The SSA may ask for an evaluation by a different physician before making its determination. If you are denied, retaining an attorney to assist with your appeal can maximize the chance of a favorable ruling.
Medical-Vocational Allowance vs. Disability
While it is true you are applying for a disability ruling from the SSA, the economic benefits you receive are more accurately called a medical-vocational allowance. The allowances are based on something called the residual functional capacity (RFC).
You can receive an RFC determination is you suffer from chronic migraines that cause you to miss more than two days of work each month or experience frequent disruptions due to a migraine while working. The SSA will clarify the records needed for the determination. Do not submit anything that is not explicitly requested.
Migraines are not just headaches. They cause severe head pain and are often accompanied by visual disturbances, nausea, and other symptoms. Most patients are unable to perform work duties when suffering a migraine.
To ease the financial burden of missed work, you can apply to the Social Security Administration for a disability determination that qualifies you for a medical-vocational allowance. Migraines are not listed on the SSA’s listing of impairments, but with the appropriate documentation and medical diagnosis, it is possible to qualify for financial assistance from the Social Security Administration.