Ultimate Guide: Qualifying for SSD for Parkinson’s Disease

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Ultimate Guide: Qualifying for SSD for Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease can be debilitating. The condition is degenerative. While there are treatments to mitigate the symptoms, there is currently no cure. When the condition becomes disabling, Social Security disability (SSD) benefits may be available. Here’s what you need to know about how the Social Security Administration (SSA) assesses Parkinson’s disease.

What is Parkinson’s Disease? 

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that can have a wide range of progressively disabling symptoms.

Some common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include: 

  • Shaking
  • Balance problems
  • Stiffness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Slowing of movement
  • Loss or deterioration of automatic movements like blinking and swinging your arms when walking
  • Mood swings
  • Memory problems

Treatments such as medication, physical therapy, and implanted electrodes have varying degrees of success with different patients. 

Pursuing SSD Benefits for Parkinson’s Disease

To receive Social Security disability benefits, an applicant must:

  • Have accrued sufficient work credits,
  • Meet the SSA’s definition of “disabled,” and
  • Have been or be expected to be disabled by the condition for a period of at least one year

Social Security Work Credits

At most, a worker can accrue four Social Security work credits in a calendar year. The number of credits a worker gets in a year depends on earnings, not the number of hours or weeks, or months the employee works. That means it may take a full year to gather four credits or the full four credits may accrue in just a few months. In 2024, you get one credit for each $1,730 earned, up to four for the year. 

To qualify for SSD, most workers must have at least 40 credits total and at least 20 credits accrued in the five years before they became disabled. However, the requirements are lower for workers who become disabled younger.

How the SSA Defines “Disabled”

Here’s how the SSA describes the legal definition of disability for SSD purposes: 

The law defines disability as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) that can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.

The first step toward understanding what that means for an SSD applicant is to understand what the SSA means by “substantial gainful activity.” The SSA uses a cut-off that changes every year. In 2024, an applicant who is earning or has the capacity to earn at least $1,550/month is considered able to engage in substantial gainful activity. That means they’re not considered disabled and not eligible for SSD benefits. That number is higher for blind applicants–currently $2,590/month. 

It’s important to note that while earning more than the SGA cut-off will disqualify a person from receiving SSD benefits, the opposite isn’t true. The question isn’t whether you are earning at or above the SGA cut-off, but whether you are able to do so. 

Two Different Processes for Determining Disability

The first approach to determining disability for SSD purposes is to determine whether the applicant’s medical condition meets or equals a condition listed in the Social Security Blue Book (technically known as the Listing of Impairments). 

Even with the listings, establishing disability can be complicated. Simply having been diagnosed with a listed condition isn’t sufficient to be considered disabled–you must meet specifically listed criteria for symptoms and limitations associated with that condition. And, the SSA may still find that you’re disabled if your condition isn’t listed. 

If your condition doesn’t meet or equal a listed condition, the SSA moves on to a different type of analysis. This analysis assesses your residual functional capacity–what you can still do despite your medical condition and limitations. This process relies on a grid system that considers factors such as your age, level of education, and skills from past work. 

Parkinsonian Syndrome is Listed in the Social Security Blue Book

Parkinsonian syndrome” is a broader term that takes in Parkinson’s disease and certain related conditions. A person suffering from Parkinson’s disease who meets the criteria in this section will be considered disabled for SSD purposes. 

To meet the listing, an SSD applicant must either: 

  • Experience disorganization of motion in two extremities, resulting in extreme limitation of at least one of the following:
    • The ability to stand up from a seated position, 
    • The ability to balance while standing or walking, or
    • The ability to use upper extremities

OR

  • Marked limitation in physical functioning and in at least one of the following:
    • Understanding, remembering or applying information, 
    • Interacting with others, 
    • Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace, or
    • Adapting or managing oneself

If you don’t meet those criteria, you may still be able to qualify for SSD if you can show that you lack the residual functional capacity to engage in substantial gainful activity. Either approach will require the right medical documentation and other evidence. 

Since Parkinson’s disease is progressive and symptoms can often be controlled–at least in part–with medication and other treatments, not everyone who has the condition will meet these requirements. If your application for SSD benefits for Parkinson’s disease is initially denied, don’t give up. Most SSD applications are initially denied, and many of those applicants are approved later in the appeals process. That’s especially true with a condition like Parkinson’s, where symptoms typically worsen over time. Even if you weren’t considered disabled when you initially applied, new information you submit with your request for reconsideration or at the administrative law judge (ALJ) hearing may tip the scales. 

Still, it’s your responsibility to make sure that you’re providing the right information, including the medical records and test results necessary to support your claim or appeal. An experienced disability benefits advocate can help. 

Disability Help Group is Here for You

At Disability Help Group, our advocates are fully dedicated to helping people with disabilities get the benefits they deserve. We have deep knowledge of the SSD application and appeals processes, as well as the criteria the SSA will apply in deciding your claim. To learn more about how we can put our experience to work for you, call 800-800-3332 right now, or fill out our contact form.

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