Every year during the month of March, MS Awareness Month is celebrated as a way to bring about awareness of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and educate the public on the impact it has on those with the disease, their family members, and their support systems. MS Awareness Month was first launched in 2003 by The National Multiple Sclerosis Society with campaigns that continue today. Among the campaigns coordinated during MS Awareness Month are fundraising efforts for scientific advancements including a deeper understanding of the disease, additional treatment options, potential preventative measures, and, ultimately, a cure.
Living with Multiple Sclerosis
Although MS can affect anyone, those between ages 20 and 50 are most at risk, with women typically receiving more diagnoses than men. Worldwide, more than 2.3 million people have been diagnosed with MS, with approximately 1 million of those diagnoses in the United States alone. While about half of all those diagnosed will live well into their 70s, there is no cure and, on average, life expectancy is about seven years less than the general population. As MS impacts the central nervous system, many suffering from the disease have difficulty walking and require use of ambulation tools such as canes, walkers, and even wheelchairs to be able to get around. As symptoms worsen, those with MS may be required to make significant life changes such as leaving work, relocating their place of residence, or utilizing personal care attendants to take care of daily needs.
The effects of Multiple Sclerosis can show up in many ways. Among the most impactful symptoms of MS are:
- Balance and coordination difficulties
- Bladder and bowel difficulties
- Chronic pain
- Extremity weakness
- Hearing loss
- Paresthesia (an abnormal sensation, typically tingling or pricking, sometimes called “pins and needles”)
- Spasticity (abnormal muscle tightness due to prolonged muscle contraction)
- Speech impediment
- Vision impairment
Multiple Sclerosis and absence
Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic disease that affects everyone differently. While some individuals diagnosed with MS can live their lives with limited impact from their disease, others face significant life challenges. It is certainly possible for those with MS, especially at early stages, to continue working and performing at a substantially gainful level. As complications arise and symptoms persist, however, working can become an unwelcome burden.
Individuals diagnosed with MS will go through many cycles of flare-ups, bouts of remission, and eventual relapses of symptoms that impact daily life, including ones’ ability to work. Because of this, those with MS may rely heavily on their personal paid time off and short-term disability benefits to financially support themselves when they are unable to work because of their disease.
For those who suffer from more consistent or damaging symptoms, a planned short absence may extend into a much longer one. It is at this time that an individual with MS may turn to long-term disability benefits and begin to utilize programs such as state level paid leave, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) to protect their financial future.
Applying for SSDI with a MS diagnosis
While the Social Security Administration (SSA) has established strict guidelines for determining eligibility, each year, millions of individuals apply for, and receive, SSDI benefits. For those living with MS, their diagnosis, and related symptoms, may be enough to meet those requirements. Through the Compassionate Allowance program, the mere diagnosis of MS is enough for an approval, but only for the most severe of cases. Individuals who have been given one of the following diagnoses have conditions so severe they automatically meet Social Security’s definition of disability:
- Aggressive Multiple Sclerosis
- Advanced Multiple Sclerosis
- Fulminant Multiple Sclerosis
- Malignant Multiple Sclerosis
- Marburg Variant Multiple Sclerosis
If an approval cannot be made from a diagnosis alone, Social Security will look to the medical evidence for further details about the limitations which have been placed on the applicant as a result of their diagnosis, symptoms, and/or courses of treatment. It is because of this that medical evidence is vital in procuring an approval.
The future of SSDI and MS: Stop the Wait
In 2019 Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX-35), Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), and Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01) first introduced the Stop the Wait Act in the House of Representatives, but it did not pass. Hoping for a different outcome, Representative Doggett, Senator Casey, and Representative Fitzpatrick reintroduced the bill last month. Currently, when benefits are approved, SSDI beneficiaries must wait five full calendar months from the date they are found to be disabled before receiving benefits, with a further 24 month waiting period before becoming entitled to Medicare. If passed, the bill would eliminate the waiting period for both the entitlement to cash benefits as well as Medicare health coverage.
Despite being established by law, there is precedent to remove the waiting period. In December 2020, former President Donald Trump enacted a law to remove both waiting periods for those living with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). If the Stop the Wait Act is passed, the waiting periods would be eliminated for all beneficiaries, which will help ease the financial and emotional burden individuals with MS and their loved ones face when they receive a diagnosis.
At Brown & Brown Absence Services Group it is our privilege to assist to individuals, and their families, who have been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. You may contact your local Social Security office or our office directly for expert assistance in filing for SSDI benefits with a MS diagnosis.
Nothing in this post is intended as advice or a suggestion to elect or not elect to claim benefits of any kind, including Social Security benefits, nor is it intended as financial advice in any way. The decision to claim benefits is a personal one that is contingent upon each individual’s unique circumstances. Nothing herein is considered medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.