Ijust won my battle for Social Security Disability! It was a hard row to hoe; took nearly a year, 2 denials and finally a hearing before the Administrative Law Judge. Copies of pictures from surgicaleyes.com helped put the judge in my shoes (eyes). Her decision in my favor rested on my Opthalmalogist's records confirming Monocular Diplopia (double vision/ghosting/seeing 10 objects), Irregular Astygmatism, and Hyperopic Shift). But my story is different from most:
I've had vision problems most of my life--ambliopia, astygmatisms, and nearsightedness that required a new, stronger, eyeglass prescription every 6 months. I wore hard contacts for 23 years, and that limited the degredation of my eyesight, but in 1990 my eyes started to dry out (as they do close to your 40s), and the dryness caused corneal abbrasions from my contact lenses...meaning I was spending more time in glasses...meaning my eyesight went back to degrading every 6 months. Glasses were horribly thick and heavy, special prism lenses, over 1/4 inch thick.
I was a full-time member of the Air National Guard, a Chief Master Sergeant, and with diopters at 10 and getting worse, would soon lose my military membership. I went to an RK surgeon NOT to get OUT of the glasses, but to get me into thinner glasses and, hopefully, back to 4 or 6 diopters...thus giving me a few more years in the military. I had RK surgery in 1991. 14 incisions in the left eye w/4 punctures; 11 in the right, w/ 2 punctures for the astygmatism. In early 1992, wearing the thin glasses I always wanted, my eyes were seeing 20/20 for a few hours a day without the glasses. The surgeon gave me a freebee 2nd surgery, as part of a National study, to see if he could take me to 20/20; 6 more incisions in the left eye, 4 more in the right ...AND IT WORKED! It was a miracle! I had 20/20 for the next 6 years, and went to reading glasses the next year. Reading glasses didn't bother me...I'd had better vision for longer than I'd ever hoped, and those thin little reading glasses were just fine with me.
In 1998, I began to experience double vision. It was a warning from the initial surgery, but usually a side-effect that begins within a couple months of surgery. Mine waited 7--almost 8 years. Doctor tried special contact lenses to force my corneas to a better shape. They were horribly uncomfortable, but I perservered for 3 years. The double vision migrated to both near and far vision, and the images increased to 10 in my left eye and 5 in my right. They were skewed in a strange backward-S shape by irregular astygmatism. The dizziness and headaches got worse and worse and worse.
I finally admitted my problem to my Commander at the Air Guard. Since I'd given over 20 years of honorable and highly-decorated military service, my Commander tried to help me stay in the military a few more years until I could retire normally at pay that would allow me to pay bills and buy groceries. They changed my job so I could work odd hours and do some work at home; got me a 21" computer monitor; even allowed me to close my office door and close my eyes when I needed to. But the headaches got worse and worse and worse.
When your head hurts ALL the time, it tends to wear on your temperament. I had one nerve left and everyone got on it. People started noticing and objecting to my "telecommuting" and excusals from military formations. I was a Chief and was supposed to set an example, but I was getting special treatment. I developed a horrible temper, and it was time to call it quits before I hurt someone. The military discharged me through a Medical Evaluation Board, where I was found medically disqualified for worldwide duty due to complications of RK surgery. A few months after that, Civil Service came through with a Disability Retirement.
Do you know that with 25 years 11 months of Civil Service, you only get a 47% disability retirement? I didn't know. In one swell-foop I went from $4500 a month to $1500 a month. Had to file bankruptcy, but managed to save my house and old car. Living with a monthly grocery budget of $50... I applied for Social Security Disability. Denied on first application and reconsideration (non-examining physicians said I could work part-time without using near-vision...and apparently they felt it was okay to drive while taking narcotic pain meds for the headaches).
In Dec 2000, I had LASEK surgery on my left eye to try to fix the irregular astygmatism. It got rid of the strange skewing of images, and cut the multiples in the left eye from 10 to 5, but the dizziness and headaches persist. Will try the right eye in a couple months, and if it has the same success, may be down to 2 or 3 images in that eye.
I take tylenol with codeine 4 times a day for the headaches that result just from daily life. I don't drive at night due to ghosting and starburst and all those scary things. I drive my car in daylight only when I have to...like 2 miles to the Commissary once a month for food, and an occasional Dr. appt. When the tylenol 3 doesn't help the headaches, I move to percodan along with something for the nausea that both the headaches and the drugs cause. I recently started a nightly anti-depressant that is used for chronic pain, hoping the headaches from daily (not at WORK--daily-at-home-doing-nothing-more-than-necessary) activities.
I took copies of the double-image pics from this site to my hearing before the Social Security Administrative Law Judge. I took a PowerPoint copy of the Social Security Hearing Notice showing 5 images, and asked that the judge try reading it and imagine how long before SHE got a headache.
Lots of documentation from my Opthalmalogist showing tries to fix diplopia and lots of documentation from Primary Care Doc regarding headaches. Lots of personal testimony about the affects the drugs have on me, and how I'm limited in daily activities.
But what helped me most, I think, is that I TRIED to work after retirement. I thought perhaps the full-time pace with too much responsibility was a cause, so I took a part-time, no responsibility job. Still got headaches. I next tried plain old Manual Labor, on a 2-week job cleaning out equipment storage rooms at the airport. Still got headaches. I tried 2 temp jobs just sitting and answering telephones. Still got headaches. I tried 2 temp jobs just making Xerox copies...yep: headaches. Driving home with a migraine; pulling the car over to throw up; taking narcotics once I got home and immediately going to bed to escape the pain; getting up the next morning and starting all over again.
Anyway, 2 days ago I received the Judge's decision, fully in my favor and declaring me disabled. She said medical records supported my claims of sufficient causes for the diplopia and migraines. She said I can't adjust to work that exists in the national economy. She said I have marked limitations in my ability to SEE as well as maintain attention or concentration on a reasonably sustained basis.
But the part I like best is how she told off the Social Security non-examining physicians who summarily dismissed my claim the first 2 times. She said she found their recomendations "...unsupported, conclusory, and contrary to the record..."
So, if any of you is disabled by the side effects of surgery, don't give up on the disability benefits. It took a year, and an attorney gets 25% of my back benefits, but you CAN win the fight.
I'm not filing suit against my Dr. I was warned of the side-effects and understand how rare it is that those effects could occur nearly 10 years after the surgery. I'm still grateful for those 6-7 years of nearly perfect vision that let me keep my military career almost 10 years longer than I would have had. In case you're wondering why I don't get military disability, it's because none exists in the Guard/Reserve. I'll get my retirement at age 60 like everyone else who puts in 20 years. That's 12 years from now. Thankfully, the Social Security will give me grocery money for those 12 years.
GOOD LUCK to you!
Lori A. Decker, CMSgt (Ret), AZANG
Tucson AZ
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