Functional Limitations and How They Affect Your Disability Claim for Migraines

When you file a claim for disability from the Social Security Administration (SSA), an SSA disability examiner wants to determine the impact of your medical condition on your ability to work. If you apply for disability due to migraine headaches, the examiner wants to know how these headaches limit your work performance, attendance, and daily reliability on the job. Those Migraine Sufferer Sign Under a Lightning Strikewho suffer with migraines usually file for disability when, despite medication and relaxation techniques, their headaches are so frequent and so severe that it's impossible for them to work.

While a migraine is sometimes considered an “invisible disease,” it’s a serious problem for both employers and employees. In the U.S., employees take over 110 million sick days due to migraine headaches. This can be costly for employers—over $24 billion is lost annually because of missed work days and decreased productivity. A migraine isn’t like a regular headache, and the symptoms can be debilitating. Migraine sufferers often experience neck pain, dizziness, severe sensitivity to sound and light, intense pulsing, throbbing, or pounding in one side of the head, nausea, vomiting, and the need to lie down in a dark, quiet room. These headaches can occur at random times and may result in an unscheduled absence from work or require that the employee leave for the day.

Dealing with migraines at work can be problematic because you may not appear to be sick in common ways, and it’s often difficult for co-workers or employers to believe that you’re really ill. However, it’s possible to receive benefits from the SSA if migraines become debilitating and you can’t work. By ensuring that your medical records include a description of your functional capacity limitations, you may be able to win your case for disability.

What Examiners Look for When Determining Functional Limitations

To determine whether or not you can work, a disability examiner needs to know what you are capable of doing on the job while suffering from severe headaches. For example, when you’re experiencing a migraine, you may not be able to look or work at a computer screen, but you may still be able to perform physical labor tasks. The SSA examiner will use this type of information to make decisions about the type of work you may be capable of. The examiner makes this determination by performing a residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment of your claim. The examiner works with a medical consultant at Disability Determination Services (DDS) to make this determination.

Together, the examiner and DDS medical consultant decide on the level of exertion you’re capable of and any restrictions that might limit the types of jobs you’re able to perform. This consultant uses your medical records and notes from your doctor to make the determination about your ability to work. 

Using a “Functional Capacity Argument” for Your Migraine Case

It’s very common for those filing a disability claim for migraines to use a “functional capacity argument.” When you build a case using this idea, you claim that due to the duration and frequency of your migraines, your capacity to perform simple tasks, entry-level tasks, and low-stress tasks is reduced, and you are no longer a reliable employee. You may also argue that the side effects of the medications you use interfere with your work ability. This argument says that your capacity to function is so diminished by your migraines that you’re unable to perform any type of work.

Here is a brief overview of some functional limitations that are specific to migraine disability cases:

  • Inconsistent job attendance
  • Unscheduled absences; the need to leave the office or be driven home 
  • Unreliable or disrupted daily performance; the need to lie down in a dark room and avoid noise and light
  • Inability to perform any activity

If you suffer from chronic migraines and require days to recover from an attack, you may worry that you could lose your job due to absences from work. Establishing disability due to migraines isn’t easy, but an experienced lawyer can help. If you have qualified representation, it may increase your chances of having your claim approved. Call us today at 402-933-5405 to discuss your eligibility for social security disability.

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Sean D. Cuddigan
SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska
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