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Can You Get Social Security Disability for a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)?

Female doctor examining a brain cat scan.

Answers you can trust from experienced disability attorneys.

Any injury can change your life, but few have more life-altering potential than traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Damage to the brain can affect almost any part of the body, depending on the portions of the brain that are injured. In particular, a TBI can significantly affect your ability to do your job or even prevent you from working entirely.

That's why we're participating in Brain Injury Awareness Month this March: we've seen the effects of TBI on many of our clients, and we want to educate people about their rights and options in the wake of a brain injury. For some TBI victims, your options may include applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.

What is a traumatic brain injury?

A traumatic brain injury is a type of brain injury caused by physical force. There are two main types of TBI:

  • closed-head injury, the more common type of TBI, is caused by blunt force trauma to the head. Closed-head injuries are often sustained in car accidents, trip and falls, work injuries, sports injuries, assaults, and other types of incidents that involve hitting the head on an object or other violent movement of the head.
  • penetrating head injury occurs when an object actually pierces the skull and enters the brain, or when the skull itself fractures and pieces of bone enter the brain.

Either type of brain injury can potentially meet the Social Security Administration's definition of disability for SSDI and/or SSI purposes. It depends on the nature of the injury and the types of symptoms.

Does a brain injury qualify as a disability?

Not all traumatic brain injuries qualify as disabilities for SSDI and SSI purposes. Rather, you qualify for SSDI if your brain injury renders you unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA); that is, if you are unable to earn above a certain threshold because of your injury.

The Social Security Administration's guidelines state that two types of brain injury symptoms generally qualify for SSDI:

1. Brain injury that affects motor functions in at least two extremities (arms or legs), causing an extreme limitation in your ability to stand, balance, or use your arms, for at least three consecutive months, or

2. Brain injury that causes a marked limitation in physical functioning, plus at least one area of mental functioning, for at least three consecutive months. Qualifying areas of mental functioning include:

  • Understanding, remembering, or applying information,
  • Interacting with others,
  • Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace, or
  • Adapting or managing oneself.

However, these are guidelines, not hard and fast rules. Whether your particular brain injury qualifies for SSDI depends on several factors, including the type of work you are trained and experienced to do, the specific ways your injury affects that work, and your age. It's also possible that a combination of a brain injury and another injury or illness could cause you to be disabled, even if neither condition would be disabling on its own.

Our law firm stands up for brain injury victims

In our many decades of representing injured New Yorkers, we've seen over and over again the profound impact a traumatic brain injury can have on a person's life. It's not just your job; it's your ability to interact with your loved ones, take care of your family, and do the things you love. No amount of money can truly get back what you've lost, but disability benefits can help you move forward and maintain your quality of life. That's why we work so hard to get meaningful results for brain injury victims and their families.

If you are unable to work due to a TBI, you may qualify for SSDI and/or SSI benefits. Our attorneys can help. Give us a call or contact us online for a free, confidential consultation with Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano LLP.

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