Blindness or Reduced Vision and Disability

This is a question one reader asked and my response.

Description: 49 year old Californian:    I have glacoma, my eye doctor has me using eye drops to bring the pressure down it was 50 pressure in my right eye and 45 in my left eye. Now it is 25 in my right eye and 24 in my left eye. My eye doctor said he is probably going to have to do surgery on my eyes.

When you read this, understand that being eligible for Social Security benefits is different than being eligible for State Disability benefits. State Disability (not all states have this, California does) provides about 66% of your wages for 12 months or less, if your doctor says you can’t work.   It is a very simple form.   It is a completely medical decision.   You can apply on line or in person.   They will give you a form to take to your doctor for his/her medical opinion. You never need a lawyer for this & should not pay anyone to do it (in my opinion others may disagree). Social Security Disability is a Federal Program.   The decision is a legal decision – which is why people get so frustrated.   Not only do you have to give them medical reasons, you have to give them legal reasons. People can do this on their own.   The reasons they get denied aren’t medical, they’re legal.   They don’t know enough to show both parts. With what you said, here is what I think about what you’ve told me: 1st You have to show that your condition will last longer than 12 months.   If you have been employed in CA, and your condition will last less than 12 months, State Disability is what you want.   If it will last longer, then you want both. You are not yet 50 years old.   When you reach 50, everything changes – meaning, the legal rules apply to people age 50 and over differently than to people under 50.

First, I am going to assume that you do not have other physical/mental problems that prevent you from working (back, neck, arm, leg, diabetes, anything that causes you pain/fatigue so you are unable to perform your job.)   If you do, then the whole thing changes (see what I mean – legal).

Second I am also going to assume that your condition will last longer than 12 months and keep you out of a job that entire time. (Dealing with one eye could take 6 months; and the next 6 months and it is long enough). The condition you describe does interfere with your life – and, to say the least, probably freaks you out, so it is a medical disability.

But this is a  legal question. It sounds like the drugs you are taking has started to work to some extent.   Pressures in those upper numbers can also cause severe headaches from which there is little relief.   The type of surgery with which I am familiar (as a lawyer, not a doctor – so, really, what do I know?) usually is done on one eye at a time and you are able to see with the other eye while you wait.   However, I have heard of some surgeries to the optic nerve where you’re flat on your back for a long time.   The total time h as to be 12 months or more for Social Security. I do not know enough about your medical condition.   Most people think that “blindness” means a total inability to see.   That is not true. There is acuity and visual field. Acuity is what most people think of as “blindness”.   It is what those numbers the doctor gives you (20/20 etc.) refer to.   If your best corrected vision (meaning with glasses) in your better eye is 2/200 or greater, then you are not disabled under the Social Security Rules. You might be for other things like driving, but not for Social Security (see, legal). Visual field is the other type – and it is an odd enough concept that even Social Security Analysts don’t always get it right the first time. Some people have places (kind of like a scab) that interfere only in places when they try to see.   Sometimes, it’s like looking through a straw – half a straw; or a circular place so you can see out of the top half of your eyes, but not the bottom.   You can read out of the bottom half of your eye, of if you put it really close to your face and move your head side to side, but not otherwise.

There are calculations that doctors do to tell you what your visual field is.   If you have glaucoma, you may have a smaller visual field. Other kinds of visual things. I have a client with an odd eye disease whose best corrected vision in both eyes is 2/40 (meaning Ok with glasses). But he has a couple of things that limit the visual field – and worse for him because he is a welder – he can hardly see in low light at all.   If he goes in to a restaurant, he has to take a flashlight because he can’t see. He’s had a number of car accident (idiot) but they don’t take his license because he can pass an acuity test.   His job requires him to do work in dark places welding pipes together.   He is over 50 so can’t do his past work.   Eventually, his claim was approved, but it took a while because the first Analysts did not understand his type of blindness.

As I said above, there are many different factors that go into making a legal conclusion about Social Security disability. This email does not constitute legal advice and does not create a lawyer/client relationship.

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