What is ALS?
For most people, the very mention of complex concepts like black holes and time relativity is enough to make them feel overwhelmed. But for Stephen Hawking, the world-renowned physicists who passed away on Wednesday morning, these intricate concepts were a fascinating mystery. Hawking, who was 76, was most famous for his book A Brief History of Time. In it, he combined Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity with quantum mechanics to suggest that the “big bang” lead to the creation of time and space. He also discovered that black holes are not fully black, and that they emit radiation.
Confused? Hawking’s mind-blowing theories are hard for the average person to truly grasp. But his stunning discoveries, when combined with his desire to share his knowledge, show that Hawking was a true leader in science.
While his scientific work is truly exceptional, one detail about his life makes Hawking even more spectacular. He did much of his work while almost entirely paralyzed, unable to even talk without a speech synthesizer.
What is ALS?
Hawking suffered from a nervous system disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a debilitating disease that affects causes muscle weakness. When someone has ALS, motor neurons in the brain, which transmit to the spinal cord, degenerate. This causes the brain to lose its ability to trigger or control voluntary movements, like walking, eating, chewing, and talking. Eventually, ALS begins to affect breathing and may lead to respiratory failure and death.
According to the Center for Disease Control, around 15,000 Americans are living with ALS. It is most common in people between the ages of 55 and 75. Its is also more likely to affect men and people who are Caucasian or non-Hispanic. Once diagnosed, most people die within three to five years. Hawking, who was diagnosed with ALS at 21, was an incredible exceptions to the life expectancy.
Does ALS Qualify for SSD?
Because of its low life expectancy and debilitating symptoms, ALS will generally qualify someone for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits. It falls under the Social Security Administration’s “Listing of Impairments,” which means that if someone can prove that they meet specific criteria, they will likely receive immediate benefits. If medical records include a specific ALS diagnoses, they will likely qualify.
ALS is also included as part of the Social Security Administration’s Compassionate Allowances Program. This program exists to help people with severe, life-threatening conditions quickly qualify for SSD benefits. When someone has a condition that qualifies them for the Compassionate Allowances program, they may receive benefits in as quickly as ten days. This program recognizes that people with ALS or a similarly grave diagnoses might not have long to live, and works to help them receive benefits as quickly as possible.
Like any disease that limits the everyday movements we often take for granted, ALS can be devastating and life-changing. But if you are struggling with a loved one’s diagnoses or facing ALS yourself, there is some comfort in the fact that SSD benefits may be readily available to help you through this difficult time—and as Stephen Hawking’s magnificent, discovery-filled life showed us all, a diagnoses does not have to mean defeat.
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