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Can I get Social Security Disability if I need to use a cane?

Ask the Advocate

Question: I am a 53 year old man with severe diabetes. I have such bad neuropathy in my feet and hands that I can barely walk. In fact, most of the time I have to use a cane in my dominant hand and occasionally I have to use a rolling walker when the pain gets real bad. I was a heavy equipment operator for CalTrans for 25 years. I was forced to quit a year ago and took a disability retirement.

I have paid into Social Security through my employer. Can I qualify for benefits?

Ask the Advocate: If you have a severe impairment like neuropathy that requires you to utilize a cane on a regular basis to stand or walk, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. Regular use of a cane necessitated by a chronic medical impairment generally precludes full-time employment or the performance of substantially gainful activity.

According to vocational literature and other sources of occupational requirements, the use of a cane can prevent a worker from performing heavy, medium, light and even sedentary work as it is normally performed in the general economy. Even in sedentary desk jobs such as those common in the administrative, secretarial, assembly and customer service fields require workers to be able to stand and/or walk two hours out of an eight hour day in addition to sitting for six hours out of an eight hour day. This is because even jobs that require a worker to spend most of his or her time sitting down in a desk chair in front of a desk also require a worker to transport assembled products from his or her workstation to a completion area in the case of an assembly job or pick up mail from a mail room and distribute it into mailboxes in a central office area, all while remaining on his or her feet. A person who must use a cane to stand or walk cannot perform such tasks as successfully as an unimpaired worker would be able to do because he or she would only have one hand available to carry objects that require two hands to carry, with his or her other hand holding the cane.

The work you did was most likely medium or heavy depending on the weight you were required to lift and carry. So the remainder of the occupational base is probably light. Social Security Rule 83-10 defines light work as "lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 lbs." Further, light work also entails "the use of arms and hands to grasp and to hold and turn objects."

Social Security will look at the medical evidence to determine if the neuropathy is severe enough and the use of a cane is medically necessary. It would be a good idea to have your doctor order a nerve conduction/EMG study to verify your allegations.

An Accredited Disability Representative with more than 20 years experience, Diana Wade believes her clientele can be comfortable knowing that she is recognized by SSA and a charter member of NADR. To contact Ms. Wade call (661) 821-0494, email [email protected] or visit http://www.CaliforniaDisability.net.