Burn Injuries and Receiving Social Security Disability

Posted in blog on July 17, 2017

Burn victims almost always suffer permanent scarring and disfigurement from their injuries. Burns tear through the soft tissues, sometimes deep enough to affect the tendons and muscles. While minor burns won’t leave permanent damage, severe burns can lead to surgeries, amputations, skin grafts, infections, months of physical therapy, and lifelong disability. If you suffered third- or fourth-degree burns that affect your ability to work, you may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits.

Two Types of Disability Benefits

When you look into Social Security Disability benefits after suffering a bad burn, you’ll find two different programs available: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The main difference between the two is that SSI is available to low-income individuals who have either never worked or not worked enough to have work credits necessary to qualify for SSDI. SSDI is for individuals who have accumulated the right amount of work credits prior to sustaining the disability.

SSI is needs based, while SSDI is for people who have worked and contributed to the Social Security system. The eligibility requirements for both programs are the same in terms of medical condition and disability. Your burn injuries must meet a standard listed in the Social Security Blue Book, or the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) list of “disabling impairments.” Another way to qualify is to prove you cannot return to work or get a different job because your burns cause permanent functional limitations.

Two listings in the Blue Book exist regarding burn injuries. The first, Listing 1.08, discusses qualifications for burns still undergoing medical treatment or surgeries. Burns that meet this Listing include those to the face, head, arms, legs, or trunk; those undergoing treatment in an effort to save functional use, and those that will not have functional use within 12 months of the date of the injury. Listing 8.08 is for burns out of treatment that still affect the body. You must have burns with extensive skin legions that doctors expect to last at least 12 months to qualify under this listing.

Medical Evidence for Burn Disability Benefits

Once you ascertain that your burn injuries meet the qualifications for SSI or SSDI benefits, you must provide the SSA with medical evidence of your disability. You must give an ongoing record of burn injury treatment and improvements or losses in function. Physical exams and medical imaging can serve as evidence on top of self-reports. If your burns don’t meet the requirements for a Blue Book listing, you may still receive benefits if you have functional limitations that prevent you from returning to work.

The SSA will judge your ability to work using a Residual Functional Capacity assessment. The assessment looks at your physical, mental, and sensory abilities. Burns can cause physical limitations, such as the inability to lift or carry items. Burns can also affect the ability to walk, stand, and sit. Severe burn scars can cause a tightening of the skin, interfering with certain movements and flexibility. Burn injuries that affect your face could decrease sensory function, impairing your senses of sight, sound, or touch.

If the SSA decides you qualify for SSDI or SSI because of your burns, scars, or disfigurement, it will approve your application. This process may take four to six months or longer. However, upon approval, the SSA will retroactively pay you for any time you spent waiting for approval after five months (or after one month for SSI recipients). Benefits will typically appear within 30 days of receiving your approval letter. You may have to continue providing medical evidence to the SSA as your condition changes or improves to continue your disability benefits.

If you have any questions or issues applying for Social Security Disability benefits with a traumatic burn injury, speak with our California burn injury attorney.

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