Can You Get Disability if You’re in a Coma or Vegetative State?
September 14, 2022 · 3 min read
If you were in a coma for at least 30 days and you still struggle with the side effects or impact of your coma, then you may be eligible to receive disability benefits. Knowing exactly how the Social Security Administration (SSA) determines eligibility is complicated, but this guide will take a closer look at how the SSA evaluates a coma or vegetative state, how to qualify for benefits, and how to start the application process.
Is being in a coma or vegetative state considered a disability?
Yes, the SSA does consider being in a coma or vegetative state as a disability that qualifies for monthly benefits, if it lasts for 30 or more days. It can even automatically qualify for disability benefits. Other symptoms that may have led to the coma or resulted from it — like a brain tumor or had a stroke — may also qualify as disabilities.
Types of comas
The medical definition of a coma is a prolonged state of unconsciousness and unresponsiveness. If the coma persists for several weeks, then it transitions to a vegetative state. The SSA classifies coma with its other TERI conditions (terminal illnesses).
There are three main types of comas:
Medically induced coma: A temporary coma that’s medically necessary to help someone heal and protect their brain from swelling due to an injury
Toxic-metabolic encephalopathy: Another type of coma that’s usually reversible, it can be the result of numerous conditions, including an injury, infection, or illness
Persistent vegetative state: A constant state of unconsciousness and unresponsiveness, where the person is completely unaware of their surroundings and incapable of movement
Yes, you or a loved one can automatically qualify for disability benefits with a coma that lasts at least 30 days. The SSA lists a coma lasting for more than 30 days as automatically qualifying for disability.
A coma that lasts 30 days or longer can qualify for disability benefits, but the SSA will still need medical evidence of the coma.
You should be ready to show documentation regarding both the diagnosis and treatment of the coma — or the ongoing treatment if you’re applying on behalf of someone. Here are some common pieces of medical evidence that helps the SSA determine your eligibility:
Test results or lab work that specify the type, extent, and treatment of the coma. The SSA lists evidence such as X-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and electroencephalography (EEG) specifically when evaluating a coma or other neurological condition.
Records of the types of therapy or treatment you receive. Documents should also show how long treatments have lasted.
The list of doctors on your neurology team. Notes from the doctors may help with the disability application.
Records of the long-lasting impacts of treatment. If you or the person you’re applying for has long-lasting effects (more than 12 months) from being in a coma, evidence of those effects will help the SSA when reviewing an application.
If you're still unsure about whether you qualify, applying is probably still a good idea. But since applying does take significant time and effort, our best advice before you start the process is:
You should apply for benefits now if:
You're not working.
You were recently in a coma for at least a month.
You’re still experiencing severe side effects from your coma (or an underlying condition) and don't expect to get better within a year.
Consider waiting and apply later if:
You just woke up from a coma that lasted less than a month, and your doctors expect you to recover within the year.
Probably don't apply if:
You were in a coma for less than a month and already recovered fully within a year
To simplify the process even more, you can also start with our 2-minute disability eligibility quiz to get an idea whether you may qualify. If you do meet the qualifications, one of our team members will reach out to learn more about your specific situation and connect you with an experienced disability lawyer who can help you win benefits for your coma.
How much are disability benefits for a coma or vegetative state?
The SSA does not specifically share payments for coma patients, but the average Social Security disability check for workers with similar diseases of the nervous system is $1,420.62 per month.
What if the coma or vegetative state does not meet the criteria?
If your condition doesn’t satisfy the criteria above, you should consider applying for disability benefits anyways — especially if you are unable to work due to a recent experience with a coma or the ongoing side effects from being in one.
Your initial application will likely end in denial, but only about 20% of people applying for disability win benefits from their first application. Next comes a long appeal process and people who go all the way through appeals to a court hearing have a 50% chance of approval. (Applicants with lawyers are also three times more likely to win their claim.)
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