Can I qualify for disability benefits if I am suffering from Macular Degeneration?
If you are suffering from Macular Degeneration you may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. The Social Security Administration has specific language and conditions related to qualifying for benefits while experiencing the effects of vision altering diseases such as Macular Degeneration.
Macular degeneration or age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a progressive eye condition that damages the macula, the portion of the retina that records the images we see and sends them via the optic nerve from the eye to the brain.
The macula focuses central vision in the eye and controls our ability to read, drive a car, recognize faces or colors, and see objects in fine detail. Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in people over 65, affecting more than 10 million Americans.
When the macula is damaged, images are not received correctly.
Changes in central vision may occur causing blurriness, distorted images or complete loss of central vision. People with very advanced macular degeneration are considered legally blind, but because the rest of the retina still works, they retain their peripheral vision, which is not as clear as central vision. Because AMD advances so slowly in some cases, a person will notice little change in their vision. In other cases, the condition progresses quickly and may lead to a loss of vision in both eyes.
There are two types of Macular Degeneration: dry and wet.
Dry AMD occurs when the light-sensitive cells in the macula break down slowly, blurring central vision in the affected eye. You may have difficulty recognizing faces and need more light for reading and other tasks. As the macula deteriorates central vision is gradually lost. Dry AMD generally affects both eyes, but vision can be lost in one eye while the other eye seems unaffected. Approximately 85% to 90% of the cases of Macular Degeneration are the “dry” (atrophic) type.
Contact a Social Security disability attorney at 512-454-4000 for a free consultation and see if you can get disability benefits while suffering from Macular Degeneration or blindness. If you have been denied disability don’t give up!
Wet AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels form under the retina.
These delicate blood vessels often leak blood and fluid causing the retina to distort or scar. As a result, damage to the macula occurs rapidly and loss of central vision can occur quickly. 15% of AMD cases are the “wet” (exudative) type.
There are three stages of AMD:
- Early AMD – Early AMD is diagnosed by the presence of medium-sized yellow deposits under the retina called drusen. There is usually no vision loss at this stage.
- Intermediate AMD – At this stage the presence of either many medium-sized drusen or one or more large drusen can be detected. Some people will see a blurred spot in the center of their vision and need more light for reading and other tasks.
- Late AMD – Vision loss is very noticeable at this stage. A breakdown of light-sensitive cells and supporting tissue in the central retinal area occurs causing a blurred spot in the center of your vision which may enlarge over time.
The specific causes of AMD are not conclusively known, but the greatest risk factor is age. The disease is most likely to occur in people 55 and older. Other risk factors include:
- Family History: People with a family history of AMD are at a higher risk.
- Skin/eye color: People with light colored skin and eyes are more likely to develop AMD.
- Gender: Women get AMD more often than men.
- Smoking: Smokers are three to four times more likely to develop AMD compared to nonsmokers.
- Nutrition: A diet low in vitamins A, C, E, lutein and zinc may be a risk factor. These nutrients are found in some fruits, nuts, and dark leafy greens.
- Obesity, High Blood Pressure, and High Cholesterol: Have all been linked to the development of advanced AMD
- Excessive Exposure to Sunlight: Excessive ultraviolet light may increase the risk for developing AMD.
There is currently no known cure for Macular Degeneration, but it is possible to reduce the risk of developing AMD and slow its progression by following some simple guidelines:
- If you smoke, quit.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes fruits, green leafy vegetables, and healthy fats, such as eggs, nuts or olive oil.
- Control your blood pressure and weight.
- Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses when outside.
- See your eye care professional regularly.
The Social Security Administration does not specifically address macular degeneration in its Bluebook of impairments, but it does discuss visual disorders in Section 2.00.
A. How do we evaluate visual disorders?
1. What are visual disorders? Visual disorders are abnormalities of the eye, the optic nerve, the optic tracts, or the brain that may cause a loss of visual acuity or visual fields. A loss of visual acuity limits your ability to distinguish detail, read, or do fine work. A loss of visual fields limits your ability to perceive visual stimuli in the peripheral extent of vision.
2. How do we define statutory blindness? Statutory blindness is blindness as defined in sections 216(i)(1) and 1614(a)(2) of the Social Security Act (Act).
a. The Act defines blindness as central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of a correcting lens. We use your best-corrected central visual acuity for distance in the better eye when we determine if this definition is met. (For visual acuity testing requirements, see 2.00A5.)
b. The Act also provides that an eye that has a visual field limitation such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees is considered as having a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less. (For visual field testing requirements, see 2.00A6.)
c. You have statutory blindness only if your visual disorder meets the criteria of 2.02 or 2.03A. You do not have statutory blindness if your visual disorder medically equals the criteria of 2.02 or 2.03A or meets or medically equals the criteria of 2.03B, 2.03C, 2.04A, or 2.04B because your disability is based on criteria other than those in the statutory definition of blindness.
3. What evidence do we need to evaluate visual disorders, including those that result in statutory blindness under title II? To evaluate your visual disorder, we usually need a report of an eye examination that includes measurements of your best-corrected central visual acuity (see 2.00A5) or the extent of your visual fields (see 2.00A6), as appropriate. If you have visual acuity or visual field loss, we need documentation of the cause of the loss. A standard eye examination will usually indicate the cause of any visual acuity loss. A standard eye examination can also indicate the cause of some types of visual field deficits. Some disorders, such as cortical visual disorders, may result in abnormalities that do not appear on a standard eye examination. If the standard eye examination does not indicate the cause of your vision loss, we will request the information used to establish the presence of your visual disorder. If your visual disorder does not satisfy the criteria in 2.02, 2.03, or 2.04, we will request a description of how your visual disorder affects your ability to function.
In order to qualify for Social Security Disability, you will need to satisfy a few specific requirements in two categories as determined by the Social Security Administration.
The first category is the Work Requirements which has two tests.
- The Duration of Work test. Whether you have worked long enough to be covered under SSDI.
- The Current Work Test. Whether you worked recently enough for the work to actually count toward coverage.
The second category is the Medical Eligibility Requirement.
- Are you working? Your disability must be “total”.
- Is your medical condition severe? Your disability must be “severe” enough to interfere with your ability to perform basic work-related activities, such as walking, sitting, and remembering.
- Is your medical condition on the List of Impairments? The SSA has a “List of Impairments” that automatically qualify as “severe” disabilities. If your disease is not listed this does not mean you cannot get disability, it means you must prove you cannot maintain employment due to your limitations.
- Can you do the work you did before? SSDI rules look at whether your medical condition prevents you from doing the work you did prior to developing the condition.
- Can you do any other type of work? If you cannot do your prior work, an evaluation is made as to whether you can perform any other kind of work.
More details can be found on our Qualifying for Disability page.