When people think of seizures, they always assume that the afflicted person has epilepsy and is experiencing an epileptic seizure. But there are several different kinds of seizure disorders that are non-epileptic, meaning they are not caused by epilepsy. These non-epileptic seizures can disrupt people’s lives and sometimes prevent those who have non-epileptic seizures from being able to hold down a job.
So is it possible to receive disability for non-epileptic seizures? If the non-epileptic seizures prevent the person from performing the functions of their job, they may be able to receive disability benefits. We will also cover the different types of non-epileptic seizures and the different types of benefits that may be available to those who suffer from non-epileptic seizures such as long-term disability benefits and Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits.
Types of Seizures
One of the most difficult to diagnose non-epileptic seizures is the dissociative seizure. These kinds of seizures start as emotion rather than electrical activity in the brain and can result from a previous traumatic event like being in a major accident, severe grief, sexual abuse or other physical abuse, or being bullied.
Identifying the stressful event that triggers the seizures sometimes helps people deal with dissociative seizures, but it doesn’t always stop them from happening. Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is a good example of a mental health disorder that may result in a dissociative seizure.
During a dissociative seizure, a person may scream and cry or experience flashbacks. They may have symptoms like a panic attack such as heart palpitations, racing heart, sweating, and hyperventilation. During the seizure, the person will lose awareness of what is going on around them and have a loss of bodily sensations and movement. As with other kinds of seizures, the person will have no memory of the attack.
The biggest problem when you try to hold down a job while suffering from dissociative seizures is that non-epileptic seizures cannot be controlled by anti-seizure medications the way epileptic seizures can be. A person with epileptic seizures can keep working after their seizures have been brought under control with medication. But with a non-epileptic seizure disorder, taking a pill will not make it possible for you to get through the day without a dissociative seizure. You cannot count on having the seizures under control.
Non-epileptic seizure disorders are often treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, also called talk therapy. This isn’t a quick fix, and it’s not as easy as just taking medication. There may be a long period of time where the patient is engaged in therapy but cannot yet hold down a job. During that time you will need to be able to draw your disability benefits to support yourself.
Non-Epileptic Seizures with a Physical Cause
Unlike a dissociative non-epileptic seizure, this type of non-epileptic seizure is much easier for private insurance companies and the Social Security Administration (SSA) to process. Because there is a physical cause a doctor can usually diagnose the reason for the seizure.
One type of non-epileptic seizure with a physical cause is a diabetic seizure triggered by low blood sugar levels. If the person keeps their diabetes under control, usually the seizures will stop and there will be no need for disability benefits. Other times a person’s seizures can be related to heart functioning. When the underlying problem can be diagnosed and treated, the patient will often become seizure-free.
But while the underlying problem is being searched out and the patient is unable to work they may be able to claim disability benefits. These cases are easier for disability insurance adjusters and SSA examiners to approve because there is a clearly defined physical cause and because the seizures do not fall under any mental disorder limitations.
Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures (PNES or Seizures with Psychological Causes)
Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures may look like epileptic seizures, but they are not caused by the same abnormal electrical activity in the brain. People can have panic attacks, which are also considered to be a kind of psychogenic non-epileptic seizure. Again, this is a seizure that is originating in the brain, so it will be harder to win disability benefits both from your disability insurance company and/or from the SSA.
In a panic attack, when the person feels scared, they will break out in a sweat, feel a racing heart or palpitations, they will start shaking, and may have breathing difficulties. Some people even lose consciousness when having a panic attack. Since it is impossible to predict what will bring on a panic attack seizure, it makes it very difficult for patients with PNES to perform their job duties.
What makes it even harder for patients with psychogenic nonepileptic seizures to collect benefits is the intermittent nature of the seizures. Patients with PNES might go for months without one, and then have one every day for several weeks. Both private insurance and Social Security Disability will have a hard time deciding how to handle this claim.
Employers have a role to play in a claim for PNES patients. It will be easier for a person to win a disability claim if the job they are qualified to do would be unsafe if they had a panic attack. For example, if a person is an electrician, seizures could be quite dangerous. Also, if a person’s job involves driving they may lose their driver’s license if a panic attack caused an accident.
An employer would need to perform a “risk assessment” to keep you safe and to protect the safety of the other employees. The employer’s findings would be part of the documentation provided to the disability insurance adjuster or to the SSA claims examiner to explain why you need to be on disability for your PNES.
Disability Income Benefits
Trying to get disability income when you have a non-epileptic seizure disorder is very difficult, but it can be done. It depends on several factors: what kind of non-epileptic seizure you are dealing with, and whether you are trying to collect individual disability benefits or group disability insurance benefits.
Group Disability Insurance
If you are trying to collect disability benefits for non-epileptic seizures under a group disability insurance policy, the group policy will likely have even more limitations. In the case of dissociative seizures, most disability insurance policies have a limitation on mental nervous conditions.
There is also the question of whether you can perform another occupation. Most group policies have a definition of disability that changes after 24 months. For the first 24 months, you are considered to be disabled if you cannot perform your own occupation. After the first 24 months, you are only considered to be disabled if you are unable to perform any occupation for which you are trained.
Individual Disability Insurance
If you are trying to collect disability benefits for non-epileptic seizures under an individual disability insurance policy, then your policy may not be as restrictive. You may also have an “own occupation” policy, which means that you are considered to be disabled if you cannot perform your own occupation due to your seizures.
Reasons Why an Insurance Company Would Deny Claims for Non-Epileptic Seizures
Many disability insurance policies have limitations that only pay for 12 months during your lifetime if your disability is caused by a mental illness. Some policies pay 24 or 36 months. Other policies don’t cover mental illness at all. The insurance company will attempt to lump all the non-epileptic seizure disorders under the broad umbrella of mental disorders so they can get out of paying benefits.
The language used in the private insurance policy makes a big difference in whether or not you will be able to collect benefits. This is why it is vitally important to have the Ortiz Law Firm analyze the policy to find out exactly what it is trying to say. The wording of the policy can be quite tricky.
Besides examining the wording of your disability insurance policy, your attorney will have to carefully examine the case law surrounding non-epileptic seizures. The attorney will have to find out if they have typically been considered mental conditions or not in previous rulings.
Private insurance companies are notorious for denying disability claims. They will deny your claim if you missed the deadline for filing. They will also deny your claim if any detail is missing from your paperwork or if you do not submit all of your medical records.
The experience of your attorney will make a big difference in the appeal process because he will know what medical records are needed to support your claim as well as how similar claims were decided in the past. An experienced disability attorney such as those at Ortiz Law Firm can examine your disability policy and figure out what limitations apply to your case and the criteria you need to meet in order to receive benefits.
Social Security Disability
Disability insurance policies each have their own set of rules, and so does the SSA. The SSA uses a list called the Blue Book when they are trying to figure out whether to approve a claim or not, and the first step will be to see if your doctor considers your seizures epileptic or not. Non-epileptic seizures are not listed specifically in the Blue Book.
When something is not specifically listed in the SSA Blue Book, the SSA disability examiner will have to rely more on what the medical evidence says. Disability examiners are given a good deal of latitude to make their own decisions and they can depend on their own personal discretion.
It is important to find out from your doctor if your non-epileptic seizures are caused by a physical problem or a mental disorder. Your doctor should also note the frequency of your seizures and whether you experience a total loss of consciousness, your symptoms immediately before and after a seizure, and any treatment required to control the seizures such as an anti-seizure medication.
As is always true of disability claims with the SSA, if there is another job you would be able to do where a non-epileptic seizure or a panic attack does not put you or others at a safety risk, then you would be required to perform those duties and would not be eligible to receive disability benefits.
Can You Get Disability for Non-Epileptic Seizures? Schedule a Free Consultation Today
If you are unable to work due to non-epileptic seizures you should consider applying for disability benefits. If your claim is denied a long-term disability attorney or SSD lawyer can help. We handle both disability insurance claims and claims with the SSA. The lawyers at Ortiz Law Firm offer a free consultation, so you can seek help with your claim without paying any fees upfront. Call us today at (888) 321-8131 or contact us using the form on this page to see if your seizures may qualify you to receive disability benefits.