The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that around 735,000 Americans suffer heart attacks each year. Of those, more than 210,000 have had a previous heart attack. Damage from each attack compounds, increasing the likelihood of more severe heart complications, including heart failure. The Arkansas Department of health notes that heart disease and stroke is the number one and number 3 causes of death in Arkansas, respectively.
Having a heart attack is a major life ordeal. It can keep you out of work for months or even permanently. Even if you do return to the workforce you may find that you are unable to continue working at the same level you used to. While a heart attack is certainly a major health event, it alone is not enough to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. This is because disability benefits are designed for people who are unable to work for a period of 12 months or longer, and many patients are able to return to work less than one year after experiencing a heart attack.
If however you have lasting impairments due to coronary disease, then you may be able to receive support through the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) disability programs. Benefits can help pay everyday living expenses, cover medical costs, and provide you consistent income if you are no longer able to work or earn a gainful living due to your long-term heart complications.
How Do I Medically Qualify for Disability Through the Blue Book Listing?
The Social Security Administration has provided a detailed list of conditions that qualify as a disability in their “Blue Book”. A heart attack is known, as a myocardial infarction, however, is not among the SSA’s standard disability list. However, do not be discouraged, you may still qualify under another listed condition. Under the Blue Book, many of the common causes of heart attacks and resultant cardiovascular complications are listed as possible conditions to recover SSI benefits, including coronary heart disease.
Heart disease encompasses several diseases, including coronary heart disease, rheumatic heart disease, hypertensive heart disease, heart failure, and other diseases of the heart. Coronary heart disease, also known as ischemic heart disease or coronary artery disease, is the main contributor to heart disease deaths. The disease is caused by a narrowing or hardening of the coronary arteries (atherosclerosis) which can lead to reduced blood flow to the heart. Complications are heart attack, heart failure, and arrhythmias. The largest contributor to heart disease is coronary heart disease (CHD), which killed 4,351 Arkansans in 2011. This equates to 14.9% of all deaths that year. When the arteries are clogged or blocked, the heart muscles can be starved of sufficient blood flow and oxygen, causing a heart attack and irreversible heart muscle damage.
Coronary artery disease may qualify for disability under the listing for ischemic heart disease. This listing requires your medical records show:
- Narrowing of or blockage in the arteries
- Fatigue from exertion or exercise intolerance OR
- At least three episodes in a 12-month period in which a blockage or narrowing of the arteries required surgical intervention (like an angioplasty or stint)
Often heart attacks result in severe heart muscle damage, which may result in chronic heart failure. This listing requires your medical records contain evidence of dysfunction in one of more chambers of the heart. Additionally, the SSA must see that your heart failure significantly limits your everyday abilities or that you experience symptoms like:
- fluid collecting in your lungs (congestive heart failure),
- severe fatigue,
- or inadequate oxygen getting to your brain.
If heart failure is so severe that you require a heart transplant, you will qualify for benefits while awaiting a transplant and for at least one year after your transplant surgery.
If you have explore the Blue Book you probably are very confused. It is important to note that the Blue Book was written for medical professionals and doctors. This can make it difficult if not altogether impossible for you to understand if your specific condition qualifies. You should plan on working closely with your doctor when you apply for benefits, as they will be an important part of the process. The SSA needs to see very specific medical records and other documentation in order to approve your claim.
How do I Medically Qualify for Disability through an RFC Analysis?
As noted above, not every person who has a heart attack is able to qualify for SSI benefits, even if their heart problems and recovery prevent you from working for 12 months or longer. If you do not qualify through the Blue Book and, then you will have to show that are still eligible to receive disability benefits through a process known as “residual functioning capacity” or RFC analysis. For any applicant that does not meet the standards set forth in the Blue Book, the RFC is the standard next step in the application process.
If you are about to begin the RFC process, the SSA will send you detailed forms that you must complete. These forms will ask for specific details about your daily life and everyday activities. The forms will also seek additional information from your doctor through a functional report questionnaire. At this point, it is important to coordinate with your doctor to ensure that you and your physician are both providing the details and insights the SSA needs to understand all of the physical and mental limitations caused by your heart attack and recovery.
If your RFC analysis shows that you are unable to perform in any job you may be qualified for, then you will potentially be granted benefits under a “medical-vocational allowance.” If you qualify under a medical vocational allowance it means that although you do not medically qualify via the Blue Book, the SSA had determined that your heart attack has prevented you from performing any work you are qualified for.
How to Apply for Benefits for a Heart Attack
When you apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, you can submit your application at the local office or use the SSA’s online forms. If you are applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) instead of or in addition to SSDI, then you will need to visit your local SSA office, because a personal interview is required. The Social Security Office for Fayetteville can be found at:
2153 E. Joyce Blvd.
Fayetteville, AR 71703
Before you apply to either disability program you will generally need:
- A copy of your medical history information. This included any medical records you have and contact details for all your healthcare providers
- Financial records, including employment income, bank account balances, assets you own, and any other types of support or benefits you receive
- Personal information, including your education level, work history, and specialized job training
Whether you’re able to qualify by meeting a disability listing or have to go through an RFC analysis, the SSA needs detailed medical records. With cardiovascular disabilities, the SSA must generally see:
- A report from your doctor that documents a minimum of three months of detailed observations about your treatment, physical condition, medications, prescribed therapies, symptoms, and functional abilities.
- Imaging results, which may include x-rays, MRIs, CT scans, or other imaging tests that document physical defects in the heart, arteries, or veins
- Cardiovascular tests, like EMGs, heart scans, stress tests, or fatigability tests
- Surgical reports for any procedures you’ve undergone
The specific documentation required will vary, based on the listing under which you may qualify. Your doctor can help you understand what records are necessary. For any other assistance applying, consider contacting a disability advocate or attorney. He or she can help you file for benefits, and defend your claim in court if need be.
Rely on Our Social Security Attorneys in Northwest Arkansas
The Law Practice of Ken Kieklak is dedicated to fighting for hard-working people who have had to stop work due to a serious illness or injury. To schedule a free and confidential SSDI consultation with our disability lawyers call us at 479-439-1843 or go online today.