Diabetes has been described by some health professionals as the “silent pandemic”. The exact number of Americans suffering from diabetes is elusive. Some estimates say the number is as high as more than 29 million and for as many as 8 million of those, their diabetes is undiagnosed. Other sources suggest that as many as one out of every two Americans is either diabetic or pre-diabetic.
But this much is known for sure, diabetes can lead to a whole host of medical problems including heart disease, hypertension, kidney disease, vision problems, and foot problems. Some researchers say it can even lead to some kinds of cancer. Furthermore, diabetes reduces individual employment opportunities and wages. It is a disease that hits the poor the hardest with a higher cost burden. The life impact of diabetes is wide-ranging. As one diabetes patient said, “It is easier to tell you the ways diabetes does not affect my life.”
Most people are able to control their diabetes with treatment—by adjusting their diet and taking medications. However, for some individuals—especially older people—treatment is ineffective; their diabetes cannot be controlled by diet and medicine. If you have uncontrolled diabetes which may have caused other medical impairments and you have been unable to work for 12 months or longer (or you reasonably believe you will be unable to work for 12 months), you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. But—and this is critically important—you are ineligible for benefits if your diabetes is not under control because you are ignoring your doctor’s prescribed treatment.
One of the ways, you can qualify for Social Security disability benefits is if one or more of your medical conditions meets the requirements of a disability listing in the Social Security Administration’s “Listing of Impairments” (also known as the “Blue Book”). Diabetes, in itself, is no longer a listed impairment, so a diagnosis of diabetes will not automatically qualify you for benefits. However, medical complications caused by diabetes may qualify you under an applicable listing. Some of the complications that diabetes patients often suffer from which may make you eligible for benefits include:
- Amputation of an extremity. Diabetes commonly causes serious nerve damage and poor circulation in the feet and hands which in some cases may lead to amputation. You may be able to get benefits if you can prove you are unable to work due to an amputation.
- Cardiovascular problems. If your diabetes has led to heart problems, you may meet the listing requirements for coronary artery disease, chronic heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, or an irregular heartbeat.
- Diabetic nephropathy. If you have kidney problems that necessitate daily dialysis or if there is too much protein or creatine in your plasma, you may meet the requirements of the kidney disease listing.
- Diabetic peripheral neuropathies. Nerve damage in the feet, arms or legs is a common condition among those with diabetes. But having some nerve damage is not enough to qualify you for benefits. You have to show interference in your ability to walk, stand or use your hands that is significant enough to prevent you from holding a job.
- Diabetic retinopathy. To qualify under this listing you must have blurred or very poor vision (between 20/100 and 20/200 in your better eye or extremely poor peripheral vision.
- Poorly healing skin and bacterial infections. Skin infections or wounds that won’t heal, have lasted for three months or more despite treatment, and make it difficult for you to walk or use your hands, may qualify you for benefits under the listing for chronic skin infections.
The Social Security Administration usually finds that most people do not meet the stringent requirements of the Blue Book listings, so to determine if your diabetes is severe enough to restrict your ability to work, they will assess your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). Simply stated, RFC is an evaluation of what you can still do despite your impairment(s). RFC forms are available from Social Security and they are filled out by your healthcare provider. An RFC is also sometimes called a Medical Source Statement, a Medical Opinion, or a Narrative Report. But regardless of the name, this form can help you with your Social Security Disability claim when you initially apply for disability benefits and also later at an appeal hearing if your initial application is denied.
As you can see, the considerations involved in filing for Social Security disability benefits related to diabetes are numerous and, at times, complex, but what is important to remember is not the name of a disease that qualifies you for disability benefits–—it is the ability to prove (with solid medical evidence) that you are unable to hold a job because of your medical condition. For a free evaluation of your case, give Cuddigan Law a call at (402) 933-5405.