Can I Get Disability Benefits For Soft Tissue Injuries & Burns?

If you have soft tissue injuries / burns, Social Security disability benefits may be available. To determine whether you are disabled by soft tissue injuries / burns, the Social Security Administration first considers whether your soft tissue injuries are severe enough to meet or equal a listing at Step 3 of the Sequential Evaluation Process. See How to Get Disability Benefits for Soft Tissue Injuries & Burns by Meeting a Listing.

If your soft tissue injury / burn is not severe enough to equal or meet a listing, the Social Security Administration must assess your residual functional capacity (RFC) (the work you can still do, despite your soft tissue injuries), to determine whether you qualify for benefits at Step 4 and Step 5 of the Sequential Evaluation Process. See Residual Functional Capacity Assessment for Soft Tissue Injuries.

About Soft Tissue Injuries & Burns and Disability

What Is a Soft Tissue Injury?

The Social Security Administration allows a disability for soft tissue injury (e.g., burns) of an upper or lower extremity, trunk, or face and head.

Examples of soft tissue injuries include nerve injuries, injuries to tendons and ligaments, injuries to arteries and veins, injuries to the lymphatic system, injuries to muscle, and injuries to skin.

The most likely accidents to produce these types of injuries are automobile, motorcycle, and work-related accidents.

In some cases, surgery may be required to restore function to a limb, such as vascular repair, re-attachment of ligaments and tendons, as well as nerve, vascular, and tendon grafts.

Severe burns are particularly likely to require extensive and prolonged reconstructive surgery to deal with scarring after the burn injury itself has healed.

Degrees of Burning

The various degrees of burning injury are as follows (see Figures 1 - 4 below):

  • First degree: the injury is limited to the outer layer of skin (epidermis).
  • Superficial second degree: there is injury to both the outer layer of skin (epidermis) and the outer layer of the dermis (living skin layer beneath the epidermis).
  • Deep second degree: There is injury through the epidermis and deep into the dermis.
  • Third degree: There is full-thickness injury through the epidermis and dermis into the fat layer beneath the skin (subcutaneous fat).
  • Fourth degree: there is injury through the skin and subcutaneous fat into underlying muscle or bone.

Features of normal human skin

Figure 1: Features of normal human skin.

A first-degree burn

Figure 2: A first-degree burn.

A second-degree burn

Figure 3: A second-degree burn.

A third-degree burn

Figure 4: A third-degree burn.

How Are Burns Evaluated?

Electrical, chemical, or thermal burns frequently affect other body systems (e.g., musculoskeletal, special senses and speech, respiratory, cardiovascular, renal, neurological, or mental).

Therefore, the Social Security Administration evaluates burns the way it evaluates other disorders that can affect the skin and other body systems. That is, it uses the listing for the predominant feature of your impairment.

For example, if your soft tissue injuries are under continuing surgical management, then your impairment is evaluated under the 1.08 listing for soft tissue injuries. However, if your burns do not meet the requirements of listing 1.08 and you have extensive skin lesions that result in a very serious limitation that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months, the Social Security Administration will evaluate them under a different listing (listing 8.08).

When to Determine the Claim

If you have extensive second or third degree burns to the hands, elbows, or knees that have just begun treatment at the time of application for benefits, the Social Security Administration should not guess that full function will be restored. Rather, the claim should be held for some months until a realistic assessment of probable outcome can be determined. By then, the long-term surgical management plan will have acquired more definite form.

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