What to Do If Your MS Disability Claim Is Denied

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive disease that develops when immune system cells mistakenly attack the protective coating of nerves in the brain and spinal cord (myelin sheath). When this happens, the nerves are damaged, and the symptoms of the disease begin to develop.

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, progressive disease that damages the myelin sheath that covers the nerve cells in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord).

People with MS experience symptoms related to this damage, including numbness, speech difficulty, trouble with muscle coordination, blurred vision, and fatigue (which can be severe).

Getting disability benefits if you have MS can be a difficult task because it's hard to quantify the disease. Everyone with MS experiences the symptoms differently.

A person with MS also might be symptom free at times. However, MS symptoms can become disabling as the disease progresses and make it harder for a person to participate in activities such as work.

Many people with MS who apply for disability are denied the first time they apply. Read on to find out what you can do if you have MS and are denied disability benefits.

Disability Benefits

There are two types of disability benefits that you might consider if you have MS.

  • The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefit provides monetary benefits to people who are unable to work but have paid Social Security taxes from jobs they had in the past.
  • The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provides benefits to low-income people who are unable to work because of a disability. SSI benefits can be received by someone who has never been employed.

Under the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) guide for disability, MS is qualified as a chronic illness or impairment that could cause severe disability. Depending on your circumstances, you may qualify for SSDI or SSI.

It can still be difficult to get approved for benefits when you have MS. If you get denied, you can appeal the decision. If you do appeal, you will have 60 days from the time that you receive the denial notice. If you miss that window, you will have to file a new claim.

To ensure that your appeal or a new application is approved, you must gather the medical evidence and appropriate documentation that is requested.

Get the Right Evidence

Medical evidence is the most important factor that contributes to getting your disability application approved.

To be approved for disability benefits, you will need to demonstrate that you are unable to work because of MS. You will need to show that you have been given a formal diagnosis of MS along with medical evidence that supports your claim that the condition makes you unable to work.

Medical Evidence that Supports Your MS Disability Claim

Verywell / Joules Garcia

Medical Evidence

Examples of sources of medical evidence you might include with your application include:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An MRI scan looks deep into the brain and spinal cord and can help identify the damage that has been caused by MS.
  • Other medical tests: Other tests may also be needed to confirm a diagnosis of MS, such as a CT (computed tomography) scan or X-rays. These tests can be used to support the findings from an MRI.
  • Vision testing: Although testing your vision will not confirm that you have MS, including the results can help the SSA get a better picture of how much the disease has impaired your ability to go about your daily life, which includes your ability to work.
  • Recommendations from your medical team: The treatment you are receiving, the state of your condition, and your symptoms will play a vital role in whether you will be approved for disability benefits. You will want to make sure that all your symptoms, as well as how they limit your ability to work and function on a day-to-day basis, are clearly documented by your healthcare team and that this information is included in your application. Any limitations that you experience related to the medications that you take for MS or appointments you attend for treatment should also be included.

Supplemental Evidence

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, other evidence of disability can be helpful when submitting an application after being denied disability benefits. Examples of supplemental evidence can include:

  • Letters or written testimonials from your coworkers, family members, or friends, that support the medical evidence
  • Any personal journals or information that you have used to keep track of your symptoms and disease progression
  • Any information about your employer's disability policy

Why Do People With MS Get Denied?

No two cases of MS are the same. The symptoms that a person has and the level of disability that they experience vary. That's one reason why MS can be tricky to diagnose, and it also makes it harder to assess a person for disability benefits.

Tell Your Doctor About Your Symptoms

You may find it difficult to recount all of the MS symptoms that you experience to your doctor. At times, your symptoms might get much worse but feel less severe at other times. When you talk to your doctor, it's important that you tell them about any symptoms that you have had—even if you are not having them at the moment or they are not as bad as they were before.

It might be helpful to create a symptom journal that you can use to record how MS affects you daily. Bring that with you to your doctor appointments. In the journal, note the symptom and how it interferes with your work or daily tasks. For example, if you have limited mobility in your hands and have a job that requires the full use of your hands, your doctor should note that in your medical record.

You should also include any side effects from treatment that you have, as well as any worsening or improvement of your symptoms. Keeping a record will give your doctor the opportunity to record your symptoms in your chart and make a paper trail of medical evidence that supports your experience living with MS.

Share Additional Medical Issues

If you have MS, you may also have other medical conditions. That information could be a key part of your disability benefits approval. A record of any medical conditions that arise because of MS or that occur alongside it (comorbidities) could help solidify your disability claim.

Some common comorbidities of MS include:

Research has shown that these comorbidities may also speed the progression of MS, which could make your need for disability benefits more pressing.

All of your medical conditions and any that may develop should be well-documented with your healthcare provider. You should include this medical evidence, along with your MS diagnosis and supporting evidence, in your application for disability benefits.

Ask for Assistive Devices

If you have symptoms that affect your ability to get around, walk, or participate in daily activities, asking for assistive devices can be helpful when filing for disability benefits.

For example, if you have trouble walking, you may ask your doctor to provide you with a cane. The use of an assistive device is another layer of proof that your MS symptoms are affecting you to the point in which gainful employment is not an option.

Types of Assistive Devices for MS

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, a person with MS may have the need for many types of assistive devices.

For example, you might need modifications to your vehicle to allow you to continue to drive; mobility aids such as scooters or wheelchairs; or a service dog to help with a range of tasks, such as opening and closing doors, pulling wheelchairs, or providing balance support.

Have a Close Friend or Family Member Vouch for You

Doctors see you during your appointments and treatments, but they do not see your day-to-day challenges of coping with MS. Getting a letter from a close friend or family member who sees what your life is like day-to-day can be an asset to your disability benefits application.

Someone who knows you well will be able to paint a clear picture of how the disease affects you on any given day and how your symptoms keep you from participating in work or other activities.

Find a Lawyer

According to the Disability Benefits Center, hiring a lawyer for disability benefits after you’ve been denied can help you during the appeals process.

Your lawyer will represent you at the hearing proceedings and can collect medical evidence in ways that you may have not thought of. They can also communicate with your medical team directly to build your case and show why your claim should be approved.

During the appeals process, you might be subject to questioning from the judge regarding your disease. Your lawyer will prepare you for these questions.

If there is a timely need for financial disability benefits because of your inability to work, a lawyer can sometimes speed the appeals process to help make the wait times shorter. 

Your lawyer will work for you to ensure that the judge understands MS and how it affects you, giving you a better chance at getting approved for your disability claim. 

Reapplying

If your appeal is denied or you missed the 60-day window to file an appeal, you will have to reapply for disability benefits.

When to Apply Again

The timing of reapplying for disability benefits is important. The disability examiners who review the new applications have strict guidelines to follow. If there is no new evidence to support your claim that your condition has worsened, you will likely be denied again.

The best time to apply is when your condition has worsened and you have the medical evidence to support it, or when you have new evidence that undeniably proves that you cannot work and need the disability benefits.

The only time an application might be approved if your condition is the same is if you provide new, substantial evidence that was not included in your first application.

If your circumstances have changed or you have new evidence but you're not sure if you should submit another application, ask your doctor if it's the right time to reapply for disability.

Summary

If you have MS and you submitted all of the appropriate medical documentation but were denied disability benefits, you can file an appeal. You might want to hire a lawyer to help you navigate the process.

Reapplying for disability benefits may seem overwhelming, but it's a necessary step if you hope to get the denial overturned.

A Word From Verywell

If you are unable to work because of your MS symptoms, applying for disability benefits might be something that you consider, as financial stress is a huge burden to add to the challenges of coping with the condition.

If you are denied the first time that you apply, know that this does not mean that you will never be approved for disability benefits. You'll just need to apply again.

When reapplying, make sure that you speak with your doctor about the best time to do so and keep a full record of your experiences of living with MS. Getting approved for disability benefits can be hard, but it is not impossible—and you do not have to do it alone.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is MS a disability?

    MS is considered a disability under the Social Security Administration (SSA). However, that does not mean that simply having MS will qualify someone for disability benefits. A person's MS symptoms will have to be severe and make it impossible for them to have a job.

  • How does disability insurance work?

    Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a social insurance program that provides disability benefits to people who have worked and earned enough money throughout their life to be covered. The money that a person pays into Social Security taxes from their income allows them to have the coverage in the event that they become disabled later in life. These benefits are paid out monthly.

  • What does disability insurance cover?

    Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) covers any disability that is on the approved list. The approved significant illness or impairment must last at least one year or result in a person’s death within one year. SSDI benefits may also include Medicaid as well as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is a monetary benefit that helps people with disabilities supplement their food budget.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Applying for Social Security Benefits: A Guidebook for People with MS and their Healthcare Providers.

  3. Magyari M, Sorensen PS. Comorbidity in Multiple Sclerosis. Front Neurol. 2020 Aug 21;11:851. doi:10.3389/fneur.2020.00851

  4. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Staying Mobile.

  5. Disability Benefits Center. Why Should I Speak To A Disability Lawyer If I Haven't Applied?.

  6. Disability Benefits Center. How Many Times Can You Apply For Disability Benefits?. Updated July 28, 2021.