Social Security Disability for Bell's Palsy

If your Bell's palsy has caused severe and lasting nerve damage, you might be eligible for disability.

By , J.D. · University of Baltimore School of Law
Updated by Bethany K. Laurence, Attorney · UC Law San Francisco
Updated 2/06/2024

Bell's palsy is a condition that affects the nerves in the face. Because of damaged nerves, the facial muscles are unable to function properly, which can cause facial drooping, excessive tearing of the eyes, changes in the ability to taste, and facial or jaw pain.

Bell's palsy usually appears quickly (sometimes overnight) and generally resolves completely in several months.

Treatment for most cases of Bell's palsy is limited to cortisone treatments and, occasionally, antiviral medication. Some rare cases don't respond to treatment and can cause permanent nerve damage that can result in synkinesis, a condition where nerves regrow into the wrong muscles, or problems seeing or speaking.

Is Bell's Palsy a Disability?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn't automatically consider Bell's palsy a disability. But if you have permanent nerve damage from Bell's palsy with severe issues like vision loss, Social Security might consider you disabled—depending on how your impairment affects your ability to work.

The Veteran's Administration (VA) might consider your Bell's palsy a disability if it was "service-connected" and caused permanent nerve damage. (More the VA rating for Bell's palsy below.)

Can I Get Social Security Disability for My Bell's Palsy?

To decide if you're eligible for disability, Social Security will first look at the severity of your medical condition. The basic requirement for disability is that your condition is so severe that it prevents you from working at the substantial gainful activity level, or SGA (generally defined as earning about $1,500 a month from working), for at least 12 consecutive months.

The primary reason it's hard to get Social Security disability benefits for Bell's palsy is that, for most people, Bell's palsy symptoms are temporary, making it unlikely that Social Security will believe you can't work for 12 months (that's the agency's duration requirement). But Social Security might approve your disability claim if Bell's palsy left you with permanent nerve damage.

(Temporary symptoms of Bell's palsy might qualify for short-term or temporary disability through your employer or your state government.)

Does My Bell's Palsy Meet a Disability Listing?

If Social Security decides that your condition has lasted at least 12 months, or is expected to last that long, the agency will determine whether your condition meets the requirements of a medical condition in its Listing of Impairments. Bell's palsy, however, isn't included in the listings.

Instead, you'll have a chance to prove that your symptoms are so severe that not only are you unable to do your old job, but you're also unable to perform any other jobs in the national or local economy.

Can I Still Win Even Though My Bell's Palsy Doesn't Meet a Listing?

Although it will likely be hard to win your case, you might get approved for disability if your Bell's palsy has caused permanent damage and has significantly impacted your ability to work. Social Security will evaluate your physical residual functional capacity (RFC) to see whether you can do your past type of work.

Your RFC is the most you can do on a regular and sustained basis—expressed as the type of work you can still do. Your RFC can be for:

  • sedentary work
  • light work
  • medium work, or
  • heavy work.

Generally, if Social Security decides you still have the RFC for sedentary work, your disability claim will be denied (unless you're older than 50 or 55, in some cases).

To determine your RFC, Social Security will prepare a report using the medical evidence you've submitted to see how the symptoms of your Bell's palsy affect your ability to do certain work-related activities such as:

  • standing
  • sitting
  • walking
  • lifting, and
  • carrying.

Because Bell's palsy doesn't affect a person's strength, Social Security will probably conclude that you can still do a sedentary (sit-down) job. This means that, unless you're over 50 or you can prove that you have non-strength-related limitations that stop you from working, you won't qualify for disability benefits.

Getting Disability When You're 50 Years Old or Older

It's usually much easier for someone 50 years old or older to get approved for disability benefits—even if Social Security decides you can do a sedentary job. That's because, for older workers, the SSA can use the "grid rules" to determine whether applicants are disabled.

The grid rules consider factors in addition to RFC level, such as:

  • your age
  • your education level
  • the skill level of your past work, and
  • whether those job skills can be used in a new position.

An older applicant without much education or job skills has a good chance of being found disabled even if the person can do sedentary work.

Here's an example of how the grids might help an older person get approved.

For a detailed discussion of the grid rules, see our article on Social Security's medical-vocational grids.

Work activities that aren't strength-related are called "non-exertional." Social Security must consider how non-exertional impairments impact your ability to work. Examples of non-exertional impairments are:

  • problems with vision or hearing
  • difficulty with speech
  • problems with work environments that are noisy or dusty
  • difficulty with hand and finger movements (manipulative)
  • difficulty with postural requirements such as:
    • reaching
    • handling
    • stooping
    • climbing
    • crawling, or
    • crouching, or
  • difficulty concentrating or attending work due to depression or anxiety.

People who suffer permanent damage from Bell's palsy can develop severe vision problems in the eye affected by the paralysis. Also, if the nerves regrow incorrectly and attach to the wrong facial muscles (called synkinesis), someone might have difficulty with speech or with eating and drinking. And it's not uncommon for someone with permanent facial paralysis to experience anxiety and depression as a result of their condition.

Here are examples of how Social Security might decide a claim based on non-exertional impairments related to permanent damage from Bell's palsy.

Tips for Winning Disability With Bells Palsy

There are some things you can do to improve your chance of winning disability benefits, depending on your situation.

Gather the Right Medical Evidence

To win any disability claim, you'll need to provide Social Security with medical evidence from acceptable medical sources, like licensed doctors, speech-language pathologists, and psychologists. (20 C.F.R § 404.1502(a).) Your medical records must be:

  • current (showing you're still under a doctor's care for your condition)
  • sufficient (containing enough information for Social Security to get a clear picture of your condition), and
  • accurate (containing the kind of diagnostic tests Social Security expects to see for your condition).

With nerve damage caused by Bell's palsy, your doctor's notes will be especially important. They should include information about all the treatments and medications you've tried—including their effectiveness and any side effects they caused. But of all your doctor's records, details of your functional limitations are the most important for proving your claim.

Claim Multiple Impairments

Many people suffer from more than one disabling condition that prevents them from working. If this is your situation, Social Security is required to consider the combined effects of all your impairments on your ability to work.

Be sure to list on your disability applications any serious conditions that make it difficult to work, even if they're not as severe as your main limitation(s). Learn more about how multiple impairments can help you win your claim.

Use Both Exertional and Non-Exertional Limitations

If you have multiple impairments, you might also have both exertional and non-exertional limitations that impact your ability to work. That can make it easier to get approved. You can learn more by reading our article about how to win your claim using both exertional and non-exertional limitations.

How to Apply for Disability With Bells Palsy

You can apply for Social Security disability benefits using any of the following methods:

No matter which method you choose, Social Security will ask for some basic information about you and your family, such as:

  • your Social Security number (SSN)
  • your birthdate and where you were born
  • the name(s), birthdate(s), and SSN(s) of your spouse and any ex-spouse(s)
  • information about your medical condition, including your health care providers and medications
  • your job history (last 15 years), and
  • your education, including degrees, certifications, and specialized training.

You'll also need to provide Social Security with your banking information, including the bank's routing number and your account number (for direct deposit of disability benefits should you win your claim).

Learn more in our step-by-step guide to applying for Social Security disability.

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