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What would be a disability rating for back injury requiring fusion from sacral to cervical?

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First I'd question whether fusing your entire spine is really necessary, as it will severely limit your mobility. Pain can be dealt with easily enough - Most of my lower spine is fused, as are 3 cervical vertebrae. But Quality of Life is another consideration altogether. Of course if you're just referring to Sacral AND Cervical, and not Sacral TO Cervical (including Lumbar and Thoracic), then it depends entirely on your recovery period and the success of the surgery. A full spinal fusion (and I've met patients who have had all of them fused) is an automatic disability award, since it immediately limits mobility and range of motion, which is required for driving and most jobs. Though I have no driving restrictions, I don't drive as much anymore since I retired due to the amount of opiates I've required for pain. Even though it doesn't affect my alertness level anymore, in any accident it would become a legal problem.

Having been granted a full disability myself in 2000 (I'm retired DoD) because of my own spinal issues and subsequent recovery problems (my pain levels required the use of Duragesic for the past 10 years, and more), I can tell you that any disability rating and subsequent determination is dependent on several things:

1. Your Doctor - First, NEVER assume your doctor is your friend, unless you've known him/her long enough to trust him/her implicitly. You doctor's disability recommendation is absolutely vital in any determination, and it may not be what you think. You must have the absolute and total support from your doctor for any disability case, and you need to determine that before you begin. This is the single biggest mistake people make when filing for disability, as they trust that their doctor is going to help them, when not all will, or do. Your doctor will be responsible for filling out most of the disability forms, as well as providing necessary records. If your doctor's recommendation is to deny a disability, a subsequent request will be much harder. You must do your best to ensure a successful determination on your first attempt.

2. Lawyer - NEVER even consider a disability without retaining a lawyer first. It was extremely difficult for me being a Federal employee to find such a Lawyer - there aren't that many who will take on cases for the employee since the Government pays much more. I was fortunate to find one though, and he earned every penny I paid him.

Retaining a Lawyer is also necessary because going through pain, surgery and recovery, you're just not in the mental state to deal with the disability bureaucracy.

3. Handicapped Designation - It really helps if you've already been designated as handicapped by your doctor, and have permanent plates or placards. If you are truly handicapped, then in the eyes of the law you are already partially disabled. The rest of the ruling is based on whether or not you can return to your profession. In my case, my job required a high Security Clearance, and being an opiate patient negated any return to my job.

4. Family Support - It is important to explain to your family what you are going through, especially any pain problems. Extreme pain brings with it mood swings and behavior that most friends and family do not associate with you, as well as depression, even suicidal thoughts. If you haven't already, your friends will likely disappear - only true friends will keep contact with you. How your family reacts is entirely dependent on educating them in what happens to people who are in this situation. I have been through much in the past 20 years - my family is only still with me because early on, I educated them on what to expect in the coming months and years as my problem got worse (see my Supervisor bio for details if you're curious). It has not been easy for any of us.

5. Medical Background/History - In my case, I have a spinal problem that is known to get worse over time, and my previous problems were well documented. Just having an injury or problem isn't enough - it's the overall diagnosis and long term prognosis that is also key to a successful award. Can you be fixed? Sure - a fusion will do that. Can you return to your former profession at full mobility? That's the question which needs to be determined, and what they look for.

Being on Disability also doesn't mean you can't work - in fact, Social Security and State Governments encourage it. The only restriction is that you cannot make more than 75% of what you were making when you retired on disability. I had my own Computer/Web Design/Hosting business before I retired, and it's helped to augment my retirement income over the years.

Keep in mind also that the Disability process takes time - it took almost a full year before I saw my first check. My wife and I had to file bankruptcy in order to keep our home and cars. We had no choice at the time, but in the end it was worth it.

Always remember this: Doctor, Lawyer, History and Documentation. If you've got the support of all 4, then you'll have no problems getting a good disability award.
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