QUESTION: I am 33 years old and have had migraine headaches since I was 16. I have had MRI’s of my brain, I’ve taken medication, I’ve even tried acupuncture. I still get migraine headaches 2 to 3 times a week. I can hardly move my head when I get one. Medication works sometimes but it is very expensive, and the doctor only gives me 10 pills a month. Light and sound is especially hard as it makes me nauseated. Obviously, I can’t work when I have one. Can I qualify for disability benefits?
ASK THE ADVOCATE: A diagnosis of migraine headaches can support a claim for Social Security disability. This is because the main issue in your Social Security disability case relates to whether you can perform any type of work. If you experience migraine headaches regularly and the severity of these headaches is as you describe, you would not be a reliable worker at any type of job.
As a migraine headache patient, you can meet this definition by presenting evidence that shows that you suffer from “level 10″ headaches frequently, thereby causing you to be a less reliable worker. For example, a claimant who experiences two “level 10″ headaches each week that last four hours apiece would end up missing 2 days of work per week, or as many as 8 days of work per month. This level of absenteeism is not consistent with full time work in a competitive job environment and could result in a finding of “disabled” at a Social Security hearing.
Winning your Social Security case, of course, requires that you do more than simply stating that you believe that you are disabled. You have to produce evidence, which may include:
- medical records, including a headache “diary”
- employment records
- statements from former co-workers or supervisors
- medications lists
This is where an experienced Social Security disability advocate comes in. A good advocate can greatly improve your chances at winning by performing the following tasks:
- obtaining current medical records and other evidence
- identifying evidence not currently in your medical file and obtaining it from your medical providers
- submitting evidence electronically to the Social Security Administration
- developing a winning “theory of disability” for your case
- reviewing the Social Security file to verify that SSA has the correct “onset date” for your disability
- reviewing the Social Security file to determine if there are any previous contacts with Social Security that may make you eligible for a larger back benefit check
- reviewing Social Security’s earnings record associated with your Social Security number for errors or omissions
- preparing a pre-hearing brief
- preparing you to testify before a Social Security judge
- preparing a current medications list and researching side effects and complications
- evaluating your work history and preparing direct and cross examination of the vocational witness who will appear at your hearing
Social Security really has a hard time determining whether or not migraine headaches would make a worker unreliable despite testimony to the contrary. Another way to look at it is they can be like non-convulsive epilepsy. Social Security has a specific listing for this type of epilsey (petit mal, psychomotor, or focal). The medical evidence must be documented by a detailed description of a headache including all associated phenomena, occurring more frequently than once weekly in spite of at least 3 months of prescribed treatment. There should be a description of any alteration of awareness significant interference with activity during the day.