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SSDI AssessmentDisability Personal Story

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Social Security Disability Insurance

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome SSDI GuidelinesHere is an explanation of Social Security's five-step process to determine if a chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) patient qualifies for SSDI:

1.  Determine if an individual is "working (engaging in substantial gainful activity)" according to the SSA definition. Earning more than $1,040 a month as an employee is enough to be disqualified from receiving Social Security disability benefits.

2.  Conclude the chronic fatigue syndrome disability must be severe enough to significantly limit one's ability to perform basic work activities needed to do most jobs. For example:
  • Walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying or handling
  • Seeing, hearing and speaking
  • Understanding/carrying out and remembering simple instructions
  • Responding appropriately to supervision, co-workers and usual work situations
  • Dealing with changes in a routine work setting
3.  Chronic fatigue syndrome is not listed under the standard category of impairments, but is evaluated based on Social Security Ruling (SSR) 99-2p.

One or more of the following medical signs, clinically documented over a period of at least six consecutive months, establishes the existence of a medically determinable impairment for individuals with CFS:

  • Palpably swollen or tender lymph nodes on physical examination;
  • Nonexudative pharyngitis;
  • Persistent, reproducible muscle tenderness on repeated examinations, including the presence of positive tender points; or,
  • Any other medical signs that are consistent with medically accepted clinical practice and are consistent with the other evidence in the case record.
At this time, there are no specific laboratory findings that are widely accepted as being associated with CFS. However, the absence of a definitive test does not preclude reliance upon certain laboratory findings to establish the existence of a medically determinable impairment in persons with CFS. Therefore, the following laboratory findings establish the existence of a medically determinable impairment in individuals with CFS:
  • An elevated antibody titer to Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) capsid antigen equal to or greater than 1:5120, or early antigen equal to or greater than 1:640;
  • An abnormal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scan;
  • Neurally mediated hypotension as shown by tilt table testing or another clinically accepted form of testing; or,
  • Any other laboratory findings that are consistent with medically accepted clinical practice and are consistent with the other evidence in the case record; for example, an abnormal exercise stress test or abnormal sleep studies, appropriately evaluated and consistent with the other evidence in the case record.
There are mental findings that establish the existence of a medically determinable impairment.

Some individuals with CFS report ongoing problems with short-term memory, information processing, visual-spatial difficulties, comprehension, concentration, speech, word-finding, calculation, and other symptoms suggesting persistent neurocognitive impairment. When ongoing deficits in these areas have been documented by mental status examination or psychological testing, such findings constitute medical signs or (in the case of psychological testing) laboratory findings that establish the presence of a medically determinable impairment.

Individuals with CFS also may exhibit medical signs, such as anxiety or depression, indicative of the existence of a mental disorder. When such medical signs are present and appropriately documented, the existence of a medically determinable impairment is established.

4.  Explore the ability of an individual to perform work they have done in the past despite their chronic fatigue syndrome. If the SSA finds that a person can do his past work, benefits are denied. If the person cannot, then the process proceeds to the fifth and final step.

5.  Review age, education, work experience and physical/mental condition to determine what other work, if any, the person can perform. To determine chronic fatigue syndrome disability, the SSA enlists medical-vocational rules, which vary according to age.

For example, if a person is:

Under age 50 and, as a result of the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, unable to perform what the SSA calls sedentary work, then the SSA will reach a determination of disabled. Sedentary work requires the ability to lift a maximum of 10 pounds at a time, sit six hours and occasionally walk and stand two hours per eight-hour day.

Age 50 or older and, due to the chronic fatigue syndrome, limited to performing sedentary work, but has no work-related skills that allow him to do so, the SSA will reach a determination of disabled.

Age 55 or older and, due to the disability, limited to performing light work, but has no work-related skills that allow him to do so, the SSA will reach a determination of disabled.

Over age 60 and, due to the chronic fatigue syndrome, unable to perform any of the jobs he performed in the last 15 years, the SSA will likely reach a determination of disabled.

Any age and, because of chronic fatigue syndrome, has a psychological impairment that prevents even simple, unskilled work, the SSA will reach a determination of disabled.

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