Understanding medical disability for migraine patients
Anyone living with chronic migraine knows that managing the pain and other neurological symptoms alongside a career can be almost impossible. With disabling symptoms lasting days, even weeks, migraine attacks are not always responsive to medication. If you are living with migraine, with attacks so severe it keeps you from holding down a full time job, filing for disability can feel like your only hope. While the laws vary slightly by state, here is a guide for filing for medical disability if migraine is preventing you from holding down a full time job.
The American Migraine Foundation’s guide to medical disability
Types of Disability
There are a few different types of disability available through either your employee benefits package or the Social Security Administration.
Short-term disability is offered by many employers as part of their health insurance package, covering 90 days of paid time off work. If you have migraine, you can use these days to recover and try new treatments, and the money you receive can be used at your own discretion. This means you can put it towards covering any new treatments or medication you decide to try, or to pay for normal life expenses while you’re not working.
After the 90 days, you will need long-term disability insurance. This is also offered by many employers, and covers a percentage of your salary (usually around 50-70%) while you’re on medical leave. Each employer requires different materials to approve long-term disability, but they usually include medical records, a note from a doctor, and updates after doctor visits.
Social Security Disability Income (SSDI)
Outside of your employer, the Federal Government offers Social Security Disability Income, or SSDI. Many employers require you to apply for SSDI in addition to applying for their own insurance benefits. SSDI can be more beneficial than employer benefits because recipients are also eligible for Medicare, and when you retire, your SSDI earnings will go towards your Social Security retirement income. This means your retirement income will be higher than if you stop working at a younger age because of migraine or another disability.
Talking With Your Employer About Migraine Disability
Explain the illness to your employer and offer them educational materials from your doctor to help educate them on the severity of migraine. Give specific instances where migraine made it difficult or impossible to perform aspects of your job, while offering suggestions for adjustments that could make it easier to do your job, whether that’s working from home, working different hours if you get a migraine during the work day, or taking time away on disability. Migraine Trust has a reasonable adjustment template that helps employees and employers work together to come to a solution. If you are approved for disability, keep your employer updated on when you plan to return to work.
Is Disability Your Best Option?
In a perfect world, migraine wouldn’t be a part of your life and you would be able to do your work easily, without the threat of debilitating pain and neurological symptoms. Since this is not the case, disability can be a good option to help you maintain an income while looking into other treatment options. When applying for disability, look at your medical leave as a time to rest, recover, and find a treatment that works—if one is available. While your best option would be a treatment plan that enables you to live a normal life without migraine, if nothing is working, the time and financial assistance disability affords makes it your best option.
To learn more about how to apply for SSDI, please download the American Migraine Foundation guide to filing for disability insurance.
Reviewed for accuracy by the American Migraine Foundation’s subject matter experts, headache specialists and medical advisers with deep knowledge and training in headache medicine. Click here to read about our editorial board members.