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Disability Benefits for Migraine: What You Need To Know

Posted on November 05, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Joan Grossman

If you experience migraine symptoms such as severe headaches, you may be eligible for disability payments if you are unable to continue working full-time.

Employers with 15 or more employees are required to provide reasonable accommodations for medical conditions, such as migraine, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For people with migraine, accommodations might include adjustments to reduce triggers by changing harsh lighting, decreasing intense sounds and smells, or providing space for rest or privacy.

Nonetheless, your migraine headaches or auras may be too physically or emotionally disabling for you to keep up with your job. MyMigraineTeam members often discuss the struggles they have with working and their experiences with disability payments for severe migraine headaches.

“Well, I had to make a big decision on Monday. I had to quit my job because my migraines were getting the best of me! In the meantime I have filed for disability and unemployment,” a member wrote.

“I just recently received disability,” another member said. “I was a Head Start teacher for over 20 years. I began having migraines a little over two years ago and lost my job due to my attendance.”

Social Security disability benefits via the federal government and state supplements are designed to help replace lost income for people who have left their jobs or need to limit the amount they work, due to a debilitating health condition. However, the process of applying for a disability claim through the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) can be complicated and may require you to appeal a rejected claim.

Before applying for disability payments, it’s important to learn about the process, including how the SSA determines eligibility for benefits.

Disability Benefits for Migraine in the United States

Two federal disability programs exist in the United States: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). To qualify for either program, you must be able to prove you have a disability that prevents you from effectively doing your current job or having other gainful employment. SSDI and SSI are funded by income and payroll taxes.

SSDI provides benefits to people with a recent history of full-time work. If your claim for SSDI is approved, benefits will become available six months after the date your disability began. You will become eligible for Medicare 24 months after you start receiving SSDI.

SSI provides disability benefits to low-income people of all ages, regardless of work history. When a claim is approved for SSI, benefits become available the following month. In some cases, you may be eligible for SSI back payments if your disability started before your SSI was approved.

In many states, SSI eligibility also qualifies you for Medicaid. In Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and the Northern Mariana Islands, you must apply for Medicaid separately from SSI. Although eligibility for SSI may vary among states, if you qualify for SSI, you will also be eligible for Medicaid.

Most states provide an SSI supplement for additional disability payments. States that do not provide the supplement are Arizona, Mississippi, North Dakota, and West Virginia. Eligibility rules for SSI supplements differ across states.

To qualify for SSI you cannot have more than $2,000 in assets for individuals, or more than $3,000 in assets for couples. The SSA’s directory of resources indicates what counts towards the asset limit. Your primary home and property, household goods, and one personal vehicle are not counted.

Both SSDI and SSI may be available for people who have very limited assets along with a work history.

How Is Disability Defined?

To determine eligibility for disability benefits, the SSA evaluates each claim according to criteria that includes:

  • Earnings — As of 2021, if you make $1,310 or more per month, you are likely ineligible. If you earn less than that, you may be eligible for a reduced payment.
  • Ability to perform tasks — You may be eligible if you cannot do basic tasks, such as prolonged standing, lifting, walking, sitting, or remembering, for at least 12 months.
  • A recognized disability — The SSA lists impairments that prevent working. Migraine headaches are listed under “Primary Headache Disorders.”
  • Inability to engage in “substantial gainful activity” — This considers your diagnosis, age, education, medical history, work history, and marketable skills.

How Can You Apply for Disability With Migraine?

A disability application requires considerable preparation and paperwork. You may want some help with your application from a trusted friend, relative, or knowledgeable professional.

One MyMigraineTeam member described their experience with the application process. “My husband helped me apply and it actually required four applications to cover all of my disabilities,” they said. “I worked on my applications for three months until he finally decided they were good to go. I got accepted on the first submission. I always tell everyone to include every illness you have.”

When you apply, you will be scheduled for an interview with a Social Security administrator at a local SSA office to discuss your claim. The SSA has a checklist for everything you need for the application, which includes personal and medical documentation, some of which is listed below.

Personal and Family Information

  • Full legal name, date of birth, and Social Security number
  • Full names and dates of birth of current or previous spouses with dates of marriage, divorce, or death
  • Full names and dates of birth of children
  • Bank account information

Medical Evidence About Your Migraine

You will need to explain how migraine attacks impact your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. You will also need to work with your doctors to ensure you have the following information:

  • Name and contact information for your neurologist and any other medical providers who can discuss your condition and medical records
  • A complete list of medications you currently take or have taken in the past, as well as relevant medical test results
  • A description of how migraine attacks impact daily activities like cooking, cleaning, and shopping

Complete Employment History

  • Earnings from the past year
  • A review of employment during the past two years and a complete work history from the past 15 years, including employment before you became disabled
  • Whether you currently receive workers’ compensation or intend to
  • Military service dates

Other Necessary Documents

  • Birth certificate
  • Social Security card
  • Proof of citizenship
  • W-2 or other tax forms from earnings during the previous year
  • Medical records on your condition
  • Documentation of workers’ compensation you have received

You can apply for SSDI online if you meet the following criteria:

  • Never married
  • Born in the United States
  • Between 18 and 65 years of age
  • Not currently receiving benefits

All applicants can apply at a local Social Security office or over the phone.

What if Your Application Is Rejected?

An application for disability benefits generally takes between three and five months to process. Approval for benefits may take even more time.

The process takes patience. Only 21 percent of people who applied for disability between 2009 and 2018 were approved on their first try. If your application is denied, you are allowed to appeal your case. The next step would be reconsideration, in which someone who did not participate in the first evaluation would review your application. About 2 percent of applications that were rejected initially were approved during reconsideration from 2009 through 2018.

If needed, you may file a second appeal and have a hearing with an administrative law judge. You are allowed to have an attorney represent you at the hearing and may want to look for a lawyer who specializes in disability. Disability lawyers do not usually require an upfront payment, but they may take a percentage of any benefits you receive.

MyMigraineTeam members have shared their frustrations with the process, although many have succeeded in securing benefits with perseverance. “I have a meeting with my lawyer on Friday to appeal for Social Security disability. This whole thing really messes with my self-worth,” a member said.

“I was granted my disability in seven months due to the lawyer,” another member wrote.

If your reconsideration is denied, you can ask the Appeals Council to review your case. About 8 percent of SSDI claims are typically approved during a hearing with an administrative law judge or the Appeals Council. If your claim is denied at this level, your final option is a federal court hearing.

“Third time’s the charm on getting disability, or that seems to be the norm. They want to make sure you really want or need it before honoring it to you! I was able to get it in 2019,” said one member.

“It took me two-and-a-half years from the application, to going through two appeals, and finally going through a hearing, to be awarded disability for chronic retractable migraine,” a member explained. “A major stress was taken off me in life, and now I'm able to better address other areas of my life that may be affecting my migraines. I wouldn't be able to explore other areas of my health otherwise.”

International Resources for Disability Benefits

If you are based in a country outside of the United States, you may be eligible for disability there. Here are some resources for disability benefits in other countries.

You Are Not Alone

MyMigraineTeam is the social network for people with migraine and their loved ones. More than 72,500 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with migraine.

Have you applied for Social Security disability benefits for migraine? Do you have tips or questions about disability? Comment below or start a conversation on MyMigraineTeam.

A MyMigraineTeam Member said:

Fluorescent lights are definitely an issue. I’m an architect w/ daily migraine and feel the need to be outlawed! Also the new too bright Auto lights- triggers for sure that very few understand!

posted 13 days ago

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Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Joan Grossman is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. Learn more about her here.

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