Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are becoming a more common diagnosis for claimants needing Social Security disability benefits, with advances in testing and imaging as well as more publicity from injured veterans and athletes. These disabilities are not always easy to prove.
Many of the symptoms of TBI are subtle. Also, because most of the patients are not good historians due to their brain injuries and often lack self-insight, proof of total disability is challenging. The involvement of family members and friends is helpful for reporting symptoms to the treating physicians.
It is not uncommon for those who have suffered a traumatic brain injury to experience physical difficulties as well as a change in cognitive abilities, the ability to concentrate, personality, mood changes, or social functioning. Others also have trouble with language, which can result in ineffective speech or communication. Some impairments may heal over time, and some functions may be regained some through therapy, while other impairments will not improve—or they may actually get worse over time.
Until October 2016, the Social Security Administration evaluated traumatic brain injuries under disability listings for other types of medical conditions. Now, the regulations cover brain damage caused by skull fracture, a closed head injury, or penetration by an object into the brain tissue.
If Social Security does not find that your limitations are so severe that you are disabled under the listing (see below), it then must evaluate whether your limitations are legitimately keeping you from working. Social Security will assess your physical and mental limitations using a physical residual functional capacity (RFC) form and a mental residual functional capacity (MRFC) form. These forms note a wide variety of limitations that can affect your ability to work, such as problems concentrating, standing, walking, and so on.
Multiple moderate limitations across several areas may make you unable to work, even though you don’t have marked or extreme limitations in any one area. An inability to return to your previous job, however, is not necessarily enough to get you approved for Social Security disability benefits. You must not be able to work any job, even one like a “surveillance system monitor,” which requires few skills and limited physical activity. Social Security will consider your age, education, and work experience when assessing your ability to do any work. Social Security recognizes that the older one is, the harder it is to learn a new job, particularly if an applicant has cognitive difficulties.
See Adult Listing 11.18 (Traumatic Brain Injury): https://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/11.00-Neurological-Adult.htm#11_18
By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®