Maybe you have been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). Or maybe doctors have suggested that you have EDS, but have not yet formally diagnosed it. Either way, it’s possible that your symptoms are creating work-related limitations which make you unable to sustain full-time competitive employment. Social Security disability benefits can be available in this situation.
Do Your EDS Symptoms Make Working Impossible?
EDS is a connective tissue disorder which is caused by abnormalities in the structure, production, and/or processing of the collagen found in connective tissue. Recently, doctors studying EDS have broken the disorder down into sub-groups which affect people in different ways, but all involve this connective tissue problem. Because there is connective tissue all throughout your body (examples include bone, cartilage, and fat), connective tissue problems can create a myriad of health issues.
Joint hypermobility is the most common feature of EDS. As a result, someone with EDS may experience chronic joint pain which limits or prevents work. EDS also often involves skin that is fragile and can bruise easily. If the EDS affects the vascular system, it can be particularly dangerous. Among other things, it could result in a deadly aortic dissection. It can also cause scoliosis or corneal thinning that affects the eyesight. Slowed gastrointestinal function, difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), and breathing problems can also be symptoms of EDS. Fatigue is commonly reported amongst EDS sufferers. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of symptoms, and having one or more of these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have EDS, but if you think you may it’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor.
How Your Social Security Attorney Builds Your Case for Disability Benefits
Doctors believe EDS is genetic and inherited, but it can arise in someone without any family history of the disorder. Its symptoms can range from mild to profoundly disabling. As such, an EDS diagnosis in and of itself does not necessarily qualify someone for disability. The judge considering your Social Security claim will need to be presented with facts about how your EDS makes you unable to work. For this, you need a skilled attorney who can present your case by introducing evidence of your symptoms and how they limit you in the workplace.
This is particularly important because there is no “listing” for EDS. Social Security’s “listings” are specific medical criteria which, if met, indicate that someone should be considered disabled. Because there is no listing for EDS, your attorney may argue that your disorder equals a listing.
For example, there is a listing for “undifferentiated and mixed connective tissue disease” contained amongst the group of listings for autoimmune disorders. Although EDS is not thought of as autoimmune, someone should be considered disabled if their EDS is equivalent in severity to a listing-level case of autoimmune mixed connective tissue disease.
To make such a showing, your attorney would present the judge with the organs and body systems that your EDS has affected. Your attorney could also elicit testimony from you about the extent of your fatigue and malaise. Most importantly, the attorney can conduct your direct examination during the hearing in a way that gives you the opportunity to explain how the EDS has affected your daily life. The goal is to show a “marked” limitation in activities of daily living, which indicates listing-level severity.
“Marked” is a Social Security term of art with somewhat of a vague meaning. Social Security attempts to define it, but just says a marked limitation seriously interferes with your ability to function and lies somewhere between “moderate” and “extreme.” In practice, this leaves lots of discretion for a judge to decide whether or not you have a “marked” limitation. As an attorney, this can be frustrating to me because there is never anything any attorney can point to in a medical record which definitively shows a “marked” limitation.
Medical Evidence of Your EDS Will Help Your Claim
Even if a doctor explicitly used this work to describe someone’s EDS, a judge could reject this by saying it is just the doctor’s opinion and the doctor was not instructed on how Social Security terms are defined. On the other hand, if your judge is convinced you are disabled, they can find that you equal this listing with a marked limitation, even without satisfying more specific medical criteria. A finding that an impairment equals a listing needs to be based on medical expert testimony, and a skilled attorney knows when to request such an expert to put the judge in the position to make this kind of finding. EDS seems to be one of the most appropriate situations in which to request an expert for this purpose, but you can expect that an unskilled or unprepared representative will fail to take this important step.
It’s also important to have an attorney who understands how judges think. Even without an attorney, you could go in front of a judge and tell them that you experience too much pain and/or too much fatigue to work. An unsophisticated representative may not add much value; sometimes they think all they have to do is ask you questions so you can tell the judge you experience pain and fatigue that make work impossible. What these representatives don’t understand is that Social Security judges have been trained to make specific, quantified findings about how much you lift, how far you can walk, how long you can stand, etc. Social security claimants with physical impairments will almost always tell the judge that they are in too much pain to work. Your Social Security attorney needs to set your case apart. For example, if someone is unable to work on a full-time, regular basis, that person should be considered disabled. Your attorney can present evidence that puts the judge in a position to make a specific, quantified finding about how often you would miss work or how often you would require unscheduled breaks in the workplace.
Let Our Social Security Lawyers Handle Your Disability Claim
EDS is serious. If you have it, you want to see a specialist like a rheumatologist who understands the disease and provides the best care possible. The same logic should apply to picking a lawyer for your disability case. You want someone who understands your disease and will do everything possible to make your case as strong as it can be. We welcome your call at Keller & Keller, contact us today for your free, no-obligation consultation.