June 2014 is Migraine and Headache Awareness Month: a good time to consider migraines/headaches as a basis for social security disability benefits. Medical conditions alleged as disabling are considered using what the social security administration refers to as the “sequential evaluation process”.  An early question in the process is whether the claimant’s medical condition meets or equals a so-called “Listing”.  Listings are simply a set of criteria and findings that, if present for a given medical condition, will result in a favorable social security disability decision. But if the listing criteria are not all present, it does not mean the case will be denied; rather, the inquiry under the sequential evaluation process must move to the next step.


All medical conditions do not have a listing. There is no listing for migraines and headaches. Victims of debilitating migraines often hear that migraines “are not on the social secuirity list” and mistaken think that a disability claim based upon migraine headaches is futile. This is, of course, incorrect.

Migraine headaches can be the basis for disability under the Social Security Act.  But winning a disability case based upon migraine headaches does take skill and careful development of the medical evidence.

It is not possible to secure objective medical testing that documents the presence of migraine headaches. (It might be possible to document vascular changes in the brain via MRI at the time the migraine is actually occuring, but this of course would happen only through serendipity). Because migraines are a malady of “self-report”, the credibility of the migraine patient is of particular import in winning social security disability benefits. Some of the factors that bolster migraine victim credibility include:

  • A good work record. Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) often consider a disability claim with a long and successful work history to have little incentive to seek disability based upon made up or exaggerated symptoms.
  • Medical records corroborating the nature, intensity and frequency of migraines. For example, an ALJ would be skeptical when a claimant reports excruciating migraines resulting in nausea and vomiting and the need to rest for hours in a dark room if the medical records indicate the claimant reports only mild and infrequent headaches to his doctor. Maintaining a headace diary is a good way to document the debilitating nature of your migraines.  The American Headache and Migraine Association website has headache diary templates available for download on their website at http://www.easeheadachemigraine.org/
  •  Pursuit of several treatment modalities in search of relief. ALJs are more likely to believe the claimant’s migraines are severe and disabling if the medical records indicate an earnest search for relief. Neurology is the medical speciality that most often addresses migraine headaches. So an ALJ will be more favorably inclined to approve a migraine-based claim when the claimant is being treated by a neurologist or in a specialized headache clinic than if the claimant only sees her internist. The Dallas Fort Worth area is blessed with several clinics that specialize in migraine headache treatment as well as having major medical centers like Baylor, Presbyterian Hospital, Parkland Memorial and the UT Southwestern Medical Center.

The Denman Law Office has successfully handled many social security disability claims based upon migraines, and attorney Denman is available for a free consultation on your migraine-based social security disability claim in Texas.