When most people think of spinal cord issues, they may immediately think about paralysis — and traumatic spinal cord injuries. Yet there are many forms of spinal cord diseases and disorders that have nothing to do with injuries like car accidents or falls. In fact, the top cause for one of the most serious symptoms of spinal cord disorder — paralysis — isn’t an injury, but a stroke.
There are millions of Americans living with spinal cord disease. Too often, these individuals are severely disabled as a result of their medical condition. In that situation, they may qualify for long-term disability (LTD) benefits through an insurance policy.
Unfortunately, insurance companies are for-profit businesses — and often deny legitimate claims in order to make money. That is why it is important to understand how these claims are handled. An experienced New Jersey disability benefits attorney can work with you to analyze your policy and help you with your application.
What Is Spinal Cord Disease?
Spinal cord disease can take many forms, with the main similarity being damage to some part of the spinal cord. Because the spinal cord is mainline of communication between the brain and the body, any disease or disorder of the spinal cord can have significant effects on a person’s ability to function on a day-to-day basis. Depending on the type of spinal cord disease or disorder, an individual may experience weak or paralyzed muscles, lost or abnormal sensation, or difficulty or a change in controlling bladder and bowel function.
Spinal cord diseases may form outside of the cord or from within the cord. Diseases or disorders that originate from outside of the cord may include:
- Spinal cord injuries
- Compression of the spinal cord, which may occur as a result of:
- Spinal stenosis
- Cervical spondylosis
- A fracture
- An accumulation of blood
- A tumor
- An abscess
- A ruptured or herniated disc
Spinal cord diseases that come from within the spinal cord include disorders such as:
- Blockage of the blood supply
- Acute transverse myelitis
- Fluid-filled cavities
- Vitamin B12 or copper deficiency
- HIV infection
- Multiple Sclerosis
Any type of damage to the spinal cord from a disease or disorder may lead to a variety of symptoms, depending on the part of the spinal cord affected. These symptoms may include:
- Muscle weakness
- Back pain
- Changes in reflexes
- Loss of sensation
- Loss of bladder control
- Loss of bowel control
- Diminished sweating
- Erectile dysfunction
By examining the loss of function, doctors can often determine which part of the spinal cord has been damaged by the disease.
Spinal cord disease is diagnosed through a combination of physical examination and diagnostic testing. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests or pyelography tests with competed tomography (CT) can be administered to show abnormalities around the spinal cord. An X-ray can also reveal the presence of fractures or tumors.
The treatment for spinal cord disease will depend on the specific diagnosis. If it is possible, the underlying cause will be treated, such as inflammation that led to compression of the spinal cord. Unfortunately, in many cases, this type of treatment is impossible or unsuccessful.
If treating the cause of the disease is not possible, then preventing complications is the primary objective, particularly for patients who are confined to bed. In addition, physical and occupational therapy are important as a way to recover as much function as possible.
How Can You Qualify for Long-Term Disability with Spinal Cord Disease?
If you have spinal cord disease, you may be entitled to LTD benefits through your insurance company. For most individuals, this would be a payment of between 50 to 60% of your salary each month. Depending on the terms of your policy, these benefits may be paid for 24 months, until your disability resolves, or until you reach retirement age.
To be eligible for LTD benefits, you will need to demonstrate that you are unable to work due to a disability. This means proving that you have a disability, such as a spinal cord disease or disorder. You will also need to show that your disability prevents you from performing your job.
For example, acute transverse myelitis is a spinal cord disease that involves inflammation of both sides of one section of the spinal cord. It is a neurological disorder that usually damages the material that covers the cell fibers of the nerves (myelin). This condition interrupts the messages that the nerves in the spinal cord send through the body, causing pain, muscle weakness, paralysis, sensory problems, or bladder and bowel dysfunction.
Acute transverse myelitis is diagnosed based on a physical examination, a medical history, and diagnostic tests to assess nerve function. These tests may include an MRI, a spinal tapped blood test.
This condition is treated with medication, including intravenous steroids, plasma exchange therapy, antiviral medication, pain medication, drugs to read other complications (such as muscle spasticity or urinary dysfunction) and medications to prevent recurrent attacks (such as corticosteroids and/or immunosuppressants. In addition, physical and occupational therapy can help individuals improve strength and coordination and learn new ways to perform day to day activities. Most people with acute transverse myelitis have at least a partial recovery, but this may take a year or longer to achieve this level of recovery.
If you acute transverse myelitis, you may be approved for LTD benefits by submitting medical records that support your diagnosis. This may include notes from a treating physician, diagnostic tests, and lab work. It may also include notes from therapists about ongoing treatment.
Next, you will need to demonstrate a nexus between your acute transverse myelitis and your inability to work. One of the most effective ways to do this is by asking your doctor to write a letter stating their opinion on your limitations and abilities based on the symptoms of your disease as well as any side effects from your treatment.
For example, your doctor may state that because of weakness in your arms and legs, you cannot stand or walk while at work, and are unable to lift objects over 1 pound in weight. In addition, given the fatigue associated with your condition — both from medicine and due to severe pain — you will need a modified schedule. If you are on immunosuppressant drugs, you may be limited to working from home to prevent being exposed to germs.
Many spinal cord diseases are incredibly serious and will limit your ability to work or prevent you from working entirely. In these situations, a skilled New Jersey disability benefits attorney can review your claim and help you gather the necessary information to put together a strong application for LTD benefits.
Need A Hand? Reach Out Today.
No matter what type of spinal cord disease or disorder you may have, if you are unable to work, you may be entitled to long-term disability benefits. Many insurance companies are reluctant to pay these benefits even to people who are genuinely disabled, more focused on their bottom line than on doing what is fair or right.
Bross & Frankel believes in getting justice for our clients — which means fighting to help them get benefits when they are unable to work due to a disability. With more than 20 years of experience and a reputation for taking on the biggest insurance companies, we know how to get results. Contact us today at 856-795-8880 or online to schedule a free disability claim review.