Getting Social Security Disability or SSI for Stroke


Strokes can be a disabling condition that qualifies you for Social Security Administration (SSA) disability benefits. SSA offers two programs: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

SSI For Stroke

Types of Disability

SSI is designed to help individuals with very low incomes, whereas SSDI is a disability program for people who have contributed over time to social security by working at a job. SSI is a federal program paid from general tax revenues and not from the SSA tax revenue base. SSI is strictly needs-based to provide basic food and shelter, so it has very strict income and owned asset requirements.

You are eligible for SSDI if you have worked long enough to contribute into the social security system. To qualify for either program, you must meet the requirements of the SSA’s stroke disability listing, referred to as the Blue Book.

Types of Strokes

There are two types of strokes. An ischemic stroke is caused by a blocked blood vessel, whereas a bleeding vessel in the brain is responsible for hemorrhagic strokes. Both can result in a stroke injury and both are listed in the Blue Book.

The aftermath of a stroke can be very mild or very serious, resulting in difficulty with vision, speech or movement. Muscle weakness or even loss of use of a limb on one side of the body can occur. While some patients recover function, the large majority (about 75 percent) have residual and irreversible effects, sometimes making it impossible to return to work.

To claim stroke social security ability, you must prove the extent of your injuries that result from a stroke and tie those injuries to your inability to work. For stroke SSI disability, you must meet the Blue Book criteria and show that you also meet the income requirements.

The Stroke Disability Listing

The SSA has updated the Blue Book listing to call a stroke a stroke so that it includes both ischemic and vascular strokes; it was previously referred to as a cerebral vascular accident. Strokes are now listed as a neurological impairment and are referred to as a “vascular insult to the brain”. You must suffer at least one of the following symptoms to be considered for stroke disability:

• The stroke leaves you unable to speak or write. You have one type of aphasia: difficulty forming words (motor aphasia) or difficulty understanding words (sensory or receptive aphasia).

• You cannot control movement in two extremeties, such as an arm and leg on one side of your body, or both arms or both legs. This inability must render you unable to stand, walk or do everyday tasks.

• Serious impairments in thinking, remembering information, understanding information and finishing tasks. Severe limitations in interacting with other people on a social level or difficulty controlling your behavior or emotions.

• Some stroke patients experience vision loss after a stroke. Hemianopia is the most common vision loss; the patient loses sight in half of each eye. Most stroke patients do recover this vision loss, but some never do, therefore you might also qualify under the Blue Book listing for vision disability. You must meet the criteria for legal blindness.

Stroke Disability Waiting Period

Even if you qualify for one of the areas above, including vision loss, SSA has a waiting period of three months for either SSDI or SSI. That’s because improvement after a stroke can occur during that waiting period. Also, the resulting effects from a stroke can’t be easily measured until after three months. Everyone experiences a different recovery, dependent on severity of stroke, age and other medical conditions present. In short, doctors can’t predict with any degree of certainty how an individual will recover. Even if you apply during the three month period, SSA will defer your claim until after the three months; then it could take several more months for their decision to award benefits.

Medical-Vocational Allowance for Stroke Disability

After the three-month period, you may not meet the Blue Book listing for stroke disability, however you have another qualifying option called a medical-vocational allowance. Even though you don’t meet SSA disability requirements, your stroke may have rendered you unable to return to your job.

SSA will do a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment. First, they take into account work you’ve done in the past, and classify the physical demands from sedentary work all the way up to heavy work. Basically, SSA wants to determine the amount of exertion you needed to perform your job. Next, they’ll determine whether you can still perform that same level of work. For example, if you worked in a warehouse operating machinery and lifting boxes, then had a stroke that rendered one arm useless, you cannot return to that job. SSA will determine if there is another job you can do; they’ll take into account your education, age and past work history.

They will review your medical records to understand the repercussions of your stroke. Without the use of one hand, you likely won’t be able to perform desk jobs either, so you’ll likely be approved for stroke disability benefits. The older you are, the easier it is to qualify for a medical-vocational allowance.