When vertigo is listed on an application for Social Security disability benefits, it's usually in connection to a vestibular balance disorder, Meniere's disease, or an unspecified inner ear problem. Even when it isn't, it's still sometimes possible to receive disability benefits for vertigo.
Here's what you need to know about vertigo and how the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers disability claims based on this condition.
Symptoms of vertigo include positional disorientation, the feeling of being in motion, and sometimes motion sickness. It's often described as a sensation that the room is spinning. Vertigo is sometimes caused by something relatively harmless, like a virus or a migraine. However, vertigo may also be an indicator of more serious conditions like stroke, tumors, diabetic complications, or drug toxicities. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) or skull fractures can also lead to vertigo.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes vestibular balance disorder as a disability that, in some cases, qualifies for benefits. Vertigo usually must be accompanied by some amount of hearing loss to be considered disabling.
If your vertigo is caused by "labyrinthine-vestibular dysfunction" and you meet the particular requirements of the SSA's vestibular balance disability listing, you will automatically be granted disability benefits. To fulfill the SSA's disability listing for this impairment, you must have all of the following:
In addition, to prove your balance disorder, you must offer evidence that the function of your vestibular labyrinth is disrupted, in the form of a caloric or positional test (more on this below).
Some people with vertigo can't meet the SSA's listing for a vestibular disorder but still can't work due to vertigo. For example, they might not have progressive hearing loss, but they meet the other requirements.
Can vertigo alone influence the outcome of a disability claim? Potentially yes, since vertigo can prevent you from working at heights and in proximity to certain hazards. If your previous job included such dangers, you wouldn't be able to return to it. And if you're older than 50, the SSA might not expect that you can be trained for another job.
If you have other symptoms that affect your ability to work in addition to vertigo, it can help your claim. Some of those symptoms include:
Winning a disability claim without meeting one of the SSA's disability listings is called getting a "medical-vocational allowance." (Learn more about med-voc allowances.)
When disability claims examiners review applications, they begin by examining your medical records. For claims involving vertigo, they look for the following tests performed by an audiologist:
Vestibular tests. Your audiologist may have you wear special goggles to track your eye movements during a number of "videonystagmography" (VNG) tests. These vestibular function tests show how well your inner ear is working. VNG tests include:
Audiometry tests. Your audiologist will give you a full set of audiometry exams to test your level of hearing loss, including:
Activities of daily living (ADL) report. The claims examiner will likely ask you to fill out an ADL questionnaire that asks you questions about any difficulties you have with the daily tasks like cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and bathing. You can also use the form to describe how your vertigo limits you from working, including problems such as walking, standing, reaching, and climbing stairs.
To complete your SSA disability application, you'll need to gather a lot of information. In addition to medical documentation (medical records, doctors' reports, test results, and more), you'll need:
Before beginning your application, gather as many of these documents as you can. But don't put off starting your application just because you're missing something. SSA representatives can work with you to get anything you're missing.
Filling out the online application is the fastest way to apply for benefits. You can complete it at a time and place that's convenient for you (even outside the United States). You can also stop and start your application as often as necessary. And you'll be able to check the status of your application while you wait for a determination.
You might experience long wait times, but you can apply for disability benefits by phone Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (local time). Call 800-772-1213 to speak to a representative. TTY is available for the hearing impaired at 800-325-0778.
Social Security offices have recently reopened following long closures due to COVID-19. But lines are long, so you should call your local Social Security office to set up an appointment before you go in. (Find your local SSA office.)
Once you've completed your Social Security or SSI disability application for vertigo, it can take several months for a decision. SSA will notify you of their determination by mail.
Learn more about how your disability claim is processed.
Updated April 11, 2022