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Q: I recently had trouble with my heart, and had to have a cardiac pacemaker and defibrillator installed. Does that make me eligible for Social Security disability benefits?

Having a pacemaker installed is not by itself a qualifying condition for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. However, it may be a sign that an individual is experiencing serious heart health problems that, taken together, are disabling.

The human heart is a marvel. Its regular operation provides a steady regulator for all the body’s systems and assures that even the most remote tissues and organ system will receive the nutrients and oxygen they need.

When the heart cannot be trusted to maintain a steady, regular tempo, the whole body is put in danger.

Two heart conditions, in particular, disrupt the heart’s rhythm in critical ways: bradycardia, a significant slowing of the heart rate; and arrhythmia, a spasmodic, irregular heartbeat. Either of these conditions can be an indication of other forms of heart failure in the near future.

Not long ago, the only treatment medical science had for irregular heartbeat conditions was a handful of medicines. Today, a conventional approach would be to begin with medical therapy and, if needed, complement that with implanting a pacemaker or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). Both these operations require minor surgery. The device is inserted under the skin of the chest or abdomen, and wires lead to specific sites on the heart. Periodic electrical shocks—so subtle that the patient cannot feel them—keep the heart’s rhythm steady.

Using a pacemaker does not cure heart disease. Many people with pacemakers and ICDs still face significant limitations on their activity levels—restrictions that may rise to the level of a disability. In addition, people with these implants must not engage in heavy lifting and avoid some sources of electromagnetic radiation, and those limitations may rule out returning the job held before the pacemaker was implanted.

Most heart disease patients will still be able to perform very light or sedentary work after receiving a pacemaker or ICD implant, despite the restrictions they face. Even if you must have an adjustment in your job duties after you return to work, you will be unable to file successfully for SSDI payments for your pacemaker. The Social Security Disability Insurance system does not provide benefits to people who are “partially disabled.” If you can perform any gainful work on a regular basis, you will not be eligible for SSDI benefits.

However, if you find yourself unable to perform your job or any other work that has been assigned to you, you may qualify to receive SSDI benefits. Proving you are truly disabled may be a significant challenge, but careful documentation of your disability in your SSDI application can make all the difference.

The central Pennsylvania Social Security lawyers at Schmidt Kramer can be an immense help in getting the benefits you have earned. We have successful fought to get SSDI payments for patients with cardiovascular conditions—including pacemaker patients—in our community. To get your questions answered and to learn if we can help with your case, call us at (717) 888-8888 toll-free. Your initial conference with an experienced disability attorney is FREE.

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