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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 3.4 million people in the United States have epilepsy. If you struggle with epilepsy and it has made it impossible for you to work, you may qualify for disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides benefits to millions of people who have worked for years but now find themselves unable to work due to a medical condition.
To help understand if disability benefits are an option for you, this guide discusses the SSA criteria to qualify for disability with epilepsy plus what next steps you should take.
Epilepsy can qualify as a disability, according to the SSA, if your condition is severe enough that it prevents you from being able to work. But while a doctor’s diagnosis may qualify you as having a disability through other programs, the SSA will require additional documentation on your symptoms and treatment.
The SSA defines epilepsy as a neurological condition that results in “a pattern of recurrent and unprovoked seizures that are manifestations of abnormal electrical activity in the brain.” The most common symptom of epilepsy is uncontrollable seizures, though what triggers the seizures may vary. Epilepsy is a chronic condition and the SSA also recognized types caused by neurological conditions or psychological conditions.
You can get disability with epilepsy if you can prove medically that the symptoms or treatments for your epilepsy leave you unable to work. Your condition also needs to last (or be expected to last) for at least one year.
The disability application is quite involved, though, because the SSA has strict eligibility requirements. To improve your odds of getting approved, you may want to consider talking with a disability lawyer. Applicants with lawyers are three times more likely to get approved for benefits.
You can show your epilepsy qualifies by meeting one or more of the following four criteria:
1. You have experienced tonic-clonic seizures at least once a month for at least three consecutive months, even though you’re following a prescribed treatment plan.
2. You experience dyscognitive seizures that have occurred at least once a week for three or more consecutive months, even though you’re following a prescribed treatment plan.
3. You have suffered from generalized tonic-clonic seizures once every two months (or more frequently) for four or more consecutive months. These have occurred even though you’re on a treatment plan. You also experience limitation in at least one of the following:
4. You have experienced dyscognitive seizures at least once every two weeks for three or more consecutive months, while on a treatment plan. You also have limitations in at least one of the following:
To show that you meet the Social Security criteria listed above, you'll have to provide detailed medical documentation of all diagnoses and the results from any specific tests. The SSA is looking for information such as:
If your answers to all or most of the questions below are yes, then your epilepsy may qualify you for Social Security disability benefits:
Ready to apply for benefits? We’ve gathered our lawyers’ best advice on how to fill out the disability benefits application.
If you think your epilepsy diagnosis meets the criteria for qualification, your next step is to apply for benefits. We encourage you to apply as soon as possible because the process is long and the sooner you apply, the sooner you can start receiving benefits.
Still unsure if you qualify? The easiest way to tell is by taking our 2-minute disability quiz. If it looks like you’re eligible, someone from our team will reach out to discuss next steps for free. We can also connect you with an experienced lawyer who can help you through the application process with epilepsy. (You only ever have to pay the lawyer if you win benefits.)
There are two types of disability you can apply for: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Understanding which you qualify for before you go through the application process may limit some of the roadblocks people often encounter.
SSDI offers the highest average disability checks and is typically available if you’ve worked and paid taxes at least five of the past 10 years. SSI is an option for people who don’t have much work history and have little to no income or savings.
Get our full breakdown of the differences between SSDI and SSI.
The average Social Security disability benefit for someone with epilepsy or a similar neurocognitive condition is $1,377.36 per month.
The maximum possible disability payment is about $3,600 per month for SSDI and $914 per month for SSI in 2023. The maximum payments are set by law and are the same for every condition.
Your exact disability check will depend on which kind of benefits you receive, plus your exact work or income history. It is also possible to qualify for SSDI and SSI at the same time.
Unfortunately, even when your epilepsy has a big impact on your daily life, qualifying for disability benefits is challenging. If you’re unsure whether or not you qualify, you may want to apply anyway. There’s no harm in applying as long as you answer all the application questions honestly. You also suggest you talk with an experienced disability lawyer because they’ll know how to advise you based on your personal situation.
It’s also important to remember that only about 20% of initial disability applications are approved. Nearly everyone must go through an appeals process that ends with a hearing in front of a judge. And while it can take one to two years just to reach a hearing, more than 50% of hearings end in approval. So while the process is certainly draining, persistence has paid off for millions of people.
In the short term, if you need financial assistance, legal assistance, or help finding affordable housing, we have collected some state and federal resources for people with disabilities.
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