Palinopsia: Can I Get Disability Benefits?

When palinopsia causes near constant visual disturbances that cloud your vision, you may be able to get disability benefits.

By , J.D. · University of Baltimore School of Law

Palinopsia is a neurological condition that causes people to see "afterimages" even after an object is gone. The afterimage can appear the day after viewing the object or while looking at the object, and the image can linger for several days after.

Although people with normal vision sometimes briefly see afterimages, in people who suffer from palinopsia, the afterimage is so severe that it is often disruptive to daily life. Patients with palinopsia often also experience trailing or tracking of objects, double vision, "visual snow," and tinnitus.

Palinopsia occurs when there is some sort of damage or disturbance to the brain and is frequently associated with brain lesions. The sources of the damage are myriad and include side effects from medications, birth injuries, seizures, tumors, and illicit drug use.

Whether or not treatment is available to those with palinopsia depends on the cause of the disorder. For example, if it is related to seizures, then seizure medication may mitigate the symptoms. However, for most sufferers, palinopsia is considered a lifelong condition.

How to Get Disability for Palinopsia

To be eligible for disability due to palinopsia, your symptoms must be so severe that they prevent you from doing more than an insignificant amount of work. To Social Security, being able to earn about $1,500 a month from working means you're not disabled.

To determine the severity of your symptoms, Social Security will first look at the medical records you provided in support of your claim to see if you can be approved under a disability listing. A listing is a condition that the SSA has concluded is so severe that it warrants automatic approval. Each listing has a specific set of criteria that must also be met in order to be approved.

Although palinopsia isn't a condition that's named in the listings, the visual loss you experience may qualify you automatically under one of the vision-related listings. Also, the underlying cause of your palinopsia may also make you eligible for approval under a different listing.

Meeting a Vision-Related Listing

Many people with palinopsia experience difficulty with their visual field. Under listing 2.03 (Contraction of the Visual Field in the Better Eye), if your visual field is affected and you meet the particular requirements for visual field deficiency, you can get benefits automatically. To learn more details about how to qualify for disability under this listing, read our article on getting Social Security disability for vision loss.

Meeting a Listing for the Underlying Cause of Your Palinopsia

Palinopsia usually has an identifiable underlying cause; for example, some people who experience palinopsia also suffer from a seizure disorder or from multiple sclerosis. Seizure disorders and multiple sclerosis can often be approved for disability automatically under a listing.

Under listing 11.02 for epilepsy, you can get automatic approval based on epilepsy if you suffer from very frequent focal (complex-partial) seizures or somewhat frequent generalized tonic-clonic seizures. You can read more about how to get disability for seizures in our article on qualifying for disability with epilepsy.

Under listing 11.09 for multiple sclerosis, you may be approved for benefits automatically if your palinopsia is caused by MS and you experience physical and/or mental impairments. Read our article on applying for disability with MS if you want to learn more about how to get approved under the MS listing.

If You Don't Meet a Listing

If you can't get approved under one of the above listings, you may still get approved for benefits under a "medical-vocational allowance." Medical-vocational allowances look at the functional limitations that your symptoms cause.

In your case, palinopsia may make it impossible for you to see a computer screen or dangerous for you to drive a car. Social Security will look at how often your vision is severely affected by palinopsia, how long afterimages last, and whether you can do your old job with your vision difficulties. It will be important to submit a daily activities questionnaire that details whether you see images when reading text, when looking at the computer, when watching TV, and whether it happens in bright light, dim light, or both.

If Social Security finds that your palinopsia would reduce your work productivity by more than 15%, it should grant you disability benefits (see our article on reduced productivity and disability).

If you can't do your old job, Social Security will consider your age, what job skills you have (from work done in the past 15 years), and how much education you have to see if there is any other work you can learn to do and still perform despite your condition. You can learn more by reading our article on how functional limitations help you get Social Security disability.

If You Want to Talk to An Attorney

Although palinopsia can significantly impair a person's ability to work and perform day-to-day activities, it's a rare condition that Social Security doesn't frequently see. While sometimes the underlying cause of a person's palinopsia is significant enough to warrant the automatic approval of benefits on its own, more often patients with palinopsia will be denied Social Security disability benefits and will have to appeal.

Because the symptoms caused by palinopsia are self-reported and the limitations caused by palinopsia are often changing, you may need the help of a creative disability attorney to get approved for your palinopsia. Consider speaking with an experienced disability lawyer in your area.

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