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How to Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits with Ataxia

Guest Author: Rachel Gaffney, Outreach Specialist at Disability Benefits Help

If you have Ataxia, you may experience a variety of challenges. Ataxia can be disabling, and if you are unable to work and earn a living because of the severity of the condition, you may qualify for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA).  

Ataxia May Qualify Through Compassionate Allowances

The SSA introduced a program called the Compassionate Allowances Program (CAP) in 2008. This program has special guidelines which allows certain applicants for disability benefits to be approved for monthly disability benefits in less than a month. The CAP has 88 conditions that warrant faster claims processing, and Spinocerebellar Ataxia is on that list.  

If you suffer from Spinocerebellar Ataxia, it is a genetic condition that causes a progressive degeneration of the cerebellum and spinal cord. There are many forms of the condition, which has been linked to more than 30 mutations of genes. The condition will cause progressive difficulty with their motor skills and coordination. The specific symptoms could vary significantly depending on the specific form of the disease and the condition’s severity, but common symptoms include speech difficulties, swallowing problems, difficulty eating, and problems with controlling balance.  

Ataxia Telangiectasia is also among those conditions that qualify for CAP. Ataxia Telangiectasia is sometimes called Louis-Bar Syndrome. The debilitating condition can affect multiple parts of the body, including a person’s ability to fend off infections and the body’s motor coordination control. If you have this condition, your chances of cancer or a respiratory disorder increases significantly.  

Ataxia in the Blue Book

The SSA uses a medical guide, which is called the Blue Book, to determine if an individual qualifies for disability benefits. Section 11.00 of the Blue Book refers to neurological disorders and the criteria that an individual must meet to qualify for disability benefits. Listing 11.17 specifically covers neurodegenerative disorders of the central nervous system, which includes conditions including Friedreich’s Ataxia and spinocerebellar degeneration. 

To qualify according to the listing, you must have one of the following: 

Disorganization of motor functioning in two extremities that causes extreme limitations in the ability to stand when getting up from a seated position, balance while walking or standing, or use the upper extremities  


Have marked limitation in physical functioning as well as in one of the following:  

  • Adapting or managing oneself 
  • Understanding, remembering or applying information  
  • Interacting with others  

It’s best to review the Blue Book with your doctor or neurologist familiar with Ataxia to ensure you meet the Blue Book’s requirement. Most claims are denied for lack of medical evidence, so working with your doctor to make sure you have enough medical support can help increase your chance of successful claim. 

Filing Your Disability Claim

If you have Ataxia that has left you disabled, you should start the application process for Social Security Disability benefits. You can either go online to file your application or call 1-800-772-1213 to talk with a representative or to schedule an appointment at a field office. Medical evidence and supporting documentation are essential for a disability claim to be successful, so be sure to gather as much supporting evidence and documentation as possible, including all your medical records so they can be reviewed during the claims process. 

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