How the Social Security Administration Reviews Ischemic Heart Disease for Disability Benefits

Every 34 seconds, someone dies from heart disease—over 2,500 people each day in the United States. Smoking, hypertension, and high LDL cholesterol are primary risk factors for heart disease, and approximately half of adult Americans suffer from at least one of these risk factors. Complications from heart disease results in more deaths than all forms of cancer combined.

doctor listening to heartIschemic heart disease is one of many heart conditions that fall under the umbrella term “heart disease,” and it's the leading cause of death in the U.S. Also known as coronary heart disease and coronary artery disease, ischemic heart disease occurs when the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart are blocked by plaque and cholesterol build-up. When this happens, a person may suffer chest pain, a squeezing or tightening feeling in the chest, or a dull ache—all that can be the result of extreme physical exertion, high emotion, or stress. People with ischemic heart disease may also experience fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, and abnormal heartbeats.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes ischemic heart disease in its “Blue Book of Impairments,” and if your condition is debilitating to a point where you can no longer perform normal daily functions and activities or you’re unable to work, you may qualify for Social Security (SS) benefits. Because the application process can be complicated, and you need medical evidence to prove your condition, it’s helpful to hire a disability lawyer during the claims and appeals process.

More Facts to Know About Heart Disease

As the leading cause of death in the U.S., here are some surprising statistics about ischemic heart disease:

  • Over 79 million Americans have one or more forms of heart disease.
  • Of those who die from heart disease, approximately 30 percent are smokers.
  • More women than men in the U.S. will die of heart disease in a single year.
  • Studies from over 20 countries show that people who are moderate drinkers have between 20 and 40 percent less heart disease than those who are non-drinkers.

Given the number of Americans suffering from heart disease, the SSA has defined requirements for people to receive disability. However, just because you have this condition doesn’t automatically qualify you for benefits. You may have symptoms that make it difficult for you to work, but they may not be as bad as the SSA requires to extend benefits. If you don’t automatically qualify, the SSA still considers how your heart disease affects your ability to perform normal, daily activities and do your job. Ultimately, the SSA determines if there is any type of work you can do safely.

What Is Your Residual Functional Capacity?

If you have symptoms of ischemic heart disease when you do any type of physical work, such as exhaustion, angina, or shortness of breath, the SSA evaluates your application and gives you a rating regarding the type of work the agency thinks you’re capable of doing. This rating is called your residual functional capacity (RFC). The SSA looks at all your medical records—including the results of your lab tests, exercise or METS test, and imaging tests—as well as the notes made by your doctor about your symptoms, physical limitations and restrictions, and other medical issues related to your heart condition.

The RFC rates your ability to do certain types of work—from sedentary, to light, to medium. Here are some examples of how the RFC rating might be determined:

  • Sedentary work. You might receive this RFC rating if your doctor limits you to work a job that primarily involves sitting. It requires no more than two hours a day of standing or walking, and not lifting more than 10 pounds.
  • Light work. You might receive this RFC rating if your doctor allows you to stand or walk for six-to-eight hours each day, but you’re not allowed to lift over 20 pounds. Or, if your CT scan shows that you had congestive heart failure and now have an enlarged heart even after you’ve had treatment, you may receive an RFC for light work. Often Social Security unfairly overestimates an individual ability to work.
  • Medium work. You might receive this RFC rating if you’ve had a partial blockage in a coronary artery, bypass surgery or angioplasty, or a heart attack. Someone with this rating cannot lift more than 50 pounds at one time but may stand or walk frequently throughout the day. It's assumed that someone with this rating can also do light and sedentary work. These RFC ratings by Social Security evaluators often differ markedly with  your objective medical condition and your doctors' limitations. 

Given your symptoms and limitations, the SSA then decides if you can do the work at your prior job. If you can’t, the agency looks at your age, education, and experience to determine if there are other types of work you can do safely and without risk. For example, if you were given a sedentary RFC rating, the SSA determines if there are desk jobs or positions that require sitting that you can handle. The SSA will likely conclude that you can work a desk job if you’re able to read and write. You don't have to accept their decision, having an experienced disability lawyer can help improve your chances of being approved.

Cuddigan Law Can Help

If you have ischemic heart disease and want help with your SS disability application, or you’ve applied and your claim was denied, contact Cuddigan Law at (402) 933-5405. We’ll evaluate your specific situation and eligibility for benefits.

 

Timothy J. Cuddigan
Omaha Social Security and Veterans Disability Lawyer With Over 40 Years Experience
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