September 23, 2014

Narcolepsy as a Basis for Social Security Disability?

Although narcolepsy is not very common, I have found that Social Security judges will be receptive to a claim for disability arising from narcolepsy if there is a longstanding medical treatment record and support from a treating condition.  As you may know, narcolepsy is a neurological condition that is characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness.

Another common manifestation of narcolepsy is something called cataplexy, which is a sudden loss of voluntary muscle control caused by emotional extremes, such as laughter, fright, shock or anger.  In mild cases, a cataplexy sufferer will experience a partial loss of muscle control or weakness in the arms or legs.  In more serious cases, a person will appear to be unconscious.

Because there is no "listing" for narcolepsy, I rely on a "functional capacity" argument to prove my client’s case.

For Social Security disability purposes, I use a three part strategy in narcolepsy cases.  First, I would ask my client’s treating physician to fill out a functional capacity evaluation form.  Over the years I have developed a number of residual functional capacity forms that are specific to various diseases and conditions and my narcolepsy functional capacity form includes check boxes for the various symtoms of the disease and checkboxes for the reliability problems that narcolepsy patients have.  Examples of reliabiltiy problems include unscheduled breaks from work, limitations in performing around hazadous machinery, and problems performing duties that require contact with the public.

Second, I would contact former co-workers and supervisors who had worked with my client to ask for statements.  Ideally, I would have one or more of these witnesses appear at the hearing, but if that was not possible, I would ask for written statements.  Usually, I would draft the statement after speaking to the witness then ask the former co-worker to review and sign before a notary.

Third, I would defintely want a witness to appear to testify at trial.  Obviously, I do not want my client driving to the hearing since driving is inconsistent with narcolepsy.  I also think that narcolepsy results in symptoms of which the claimant himself might not be fully aware.  A spouse, parent or sibling could describe how narcolepsy creates daily living problems.

I also think that most judges would expect that a narcolepsy patient would have a long treatment record showing on-going efforts to get relief.  In other words, the judge would expect that the narcolepsy is not responding to treatment plus it needs to generate significant work limitations.

Because judges do not often see narcolepsy cases, I think that disability claimants and their lawyers will be expected to present a strong case that will involve some level of educating the judge.

[tags] narcolepsy and disability, narcolepsy and social security disability, sleep apnea, cataplexy, non-restorative sleep and disability [/tags]

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Jonathan Ginsberg represents Social Security disability claimants in Georgia. In practice for over 23 years, Jonathan publishes a widely known disability blog, a podcast and several disability web sites. In 2004, Jonathan published a "how to" book about Social Security disability called the Disability Answer Guide. Jonathan lives with his wife and 2 children in Atlanta.