Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs) Rarely Qualify for Social Security Disability

Social Security disability benefits are not usually available for those with multiple TIAs, but it's possible in some cases.

By , Contributing Author

A transient ischemic attack, or TIA, occurs when blood flow to the brain is slowed or stops. TIAs are sometimes also referred to as "mini-strokes." Unlike a stroke, TIAs don't cause permanent damage and symptoms usually resolve within 24 hours, but people who experience them are more likely to suffer full strokes later on. TIAs are often related to risk factors like high cholesterol, cigarette smoking, atrial fibrillation, and fibromuscular dysplasia. Symptoms of TIAs are sudden and include:

  • confusion
  • trouble speaking or understanding
  • weakness in arms or legs (usually on one side of the body)
  • trouble seeing
  • difficulty walking
  • dizziness, and
  • loss of balance or coordination.

There is no way to tell immediately if these symptoms indicate a stroke or TIA. As the effects of strokes can be fatal and debilitating, but can be mitigated if they are treated right away, it's vital to seek help right away if you experience any of these symptoms.

What Are the Basic Requirements for Social Security Disability?

To win your disability claim, you must prove that your medical condition is so severe that you can't do work that earns more than about $1,500 a month. This doesn't mean, however, that you'll be found disabled if you can only do an amount of work that earns you less than $1,500; it just means that Social Security won't even consider your claim if you earn more than that. Also, your disabling medical condition must have lasted, or be expected to last, for at least 12 consecutive months.

The medical requirements are the same for both federal disability programs: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability (SSDI). SSI is for people who have little work history or income and limited resources. SSDI is for people who have worked long enough for companies that have paid taxes to the Social Security Administration (SSA). Self-employed people who have paid self-employment taxes to the SSA can also get SSDI if they otherwise qualify.

Can I Get SSDI or SSI Disability for Having TIAs?

Because the symptoms related to TIAs generally last no more than 24 hours and don't cause permanent brain damage, it is unlikely that you can get approved for disability because of TIAs alone. This is because, even if you have more than one TIA, you can probably still do at least a sit-down job on a full-time basis.

There is a narrow set of circumstances where you might be able to get disability benefits, however. If you experience recurrent TIAs and have a job that requires working with heavy objects or dangerous machinery, working on ladders or other heights, or frequent driving, it may be difficult or impossible to continue working at your current job. Even though having recurrent TIAs may not generally be considered a severe impairment, if your job has particular requirements that increase your risk of injury or stroke, Social Security would agree that you can't do your job. (See our article on when a job's unique features prevent you from doing it.)

If this is true for you, you may be able to win your disability claim if Social Security's "grid rules" say that you aren't expected to learn to work at a different type of job.

What are the grid rules?

The grid rules (or "grids") are used if you can't work your prior job due to your medical conditions. In that case, Social Security looks to the set of grid rules for someone with your functional capacity (your physical and mental abilities) to determine whether someone in your age group with your educational level and job history should be able to adjust to another type of work. Based on these factors, the grid rules will direct a finding of disabled or not disabled.

How is functional capacity determined?

Your residual functional capacity (RFC) means the work activities you can do on a regular and sustained basis despite your illness or injury. The SSA decides your RFC by preparing a report that discusses any limitations caused by your TIAs and how your symptoms impact your ability to do certain physical work-related activities (like lifting, carrying, sitting, or standing). Your RFC can be for sedentary, light, medium, or heavy work.

Why does my age matter?

Your age matters because the SSA believes that the older you are, the more difficult it would be for you to learn a new job.

Why does the SSA look at my job history?

The SSA classifies past work as unskilled, semi-skilled, and skilled. Generally, the lower the skill level of your past job, the easier it will be to get approved using the grid rules. Also, if your job is skilled but the skills required are specific to that job and can't be transferred to another position, it may be easier to get approved under the grids. If the SSA decides you learned skills in your old job that can be transferred to another position, it can be harder to get approved under the grid rules because it means you can usually find other work.

Here is an example of how the SSA might use the grid rules to decide a claim for someone with recurrent TIAs.

Getting Legal Help

Winning a claim based on TIAs alone will be hard. Depending on the specific facts of your case, an experienced disability attorney may be able to suggest ways to improve your chances. If you decide to talk to an attorney about your case, you can start the process by getting a free case evaluation from a local disability lawyer.

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