Functional Limitations: How They Affect Your Disability Claim for Migraines

Disability Claim for MigrainesWhen you file a claim for disability with 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 chronic migraine headaches, the examiner wants to know how these headaches limit your work performance, attendance, and daily reliability on the job.

Those who suffer with migraines usually file for disability when, despite medication and relaxation techniques, their headaches are so frequent and so severe, it's impossible for them to work.

Understanding Migraines

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 113 million sick days each year due to migraine headaches. This can be costly for employers—over $24 billion is lost annually because of missed workdays 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 on 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 leaves 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 diagnosis of primary headache disorder and a description of your residual functional capacity (RFC)—symptoms that describe your functional limitations—the SSA may determine that you have a medically determinable impairment (MDI) that is eligible for disability benefits.

What Examiners Look for When Determining Functional Limitations

If your primary headache disorder diagnosis, "alone or in combination with another impairment," doesn't equal a listing in the SSA's Blue Book of impairments, the examiner looks at your RFC to determine the most you can do given your limitations. Generally, that means the 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 an RFC assessment of your claim and works with a medical consultant at Disability Determination Services (DDS) to make a decision.

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 Disability Claim for Migraines

It's very common for migraine sufferers to use a "functional capacity argument" when filing a disability claim. When you build a case using this argument, you assert 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 ability to work. This argument says that your capacity to function is so diminished by your migraines, 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 including basic work tasks

The SSA will review your medical evidence and look at your functional capacity as it relates to work. If your symptoms show limitations that indicate you'd be an unreliable employee even in an undemanding position and a job that is low stress, you have a better chance of receiving disability benefits for your migraines.

Contact Cuddigan Law for Migraine Disability Benefits

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 to speak with an intake specialist for free to discuss your eligibility for Social Security disability.

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