Chronic liver disease is a classification of health conditions that includes cirrhosis. Cirrhosis develops when the body’s liver no longer functions properly because there's been substantial, long-term damage, and the liver’s normal tissue is replaced by scar tissue. The disease may not fully develop for a period of months or even years and often, there are no symptoms at the onset.
However, as cirrhosis progresses, a patient suffering cirrhosis may feel weak, tired, itchy, and his skin may bruise easily or take on a yellowish tone. He may experience swelling in the lower legs and fluid in the abdomen. Over 200,000 people develop chronic liver disease each year, and liver damage that is caused by cirrhosis is irreversible.
Not only is the liver the largest of the body’s organs, it’s also one of the most crucial. The liver:
- Digests certain nutrients found in food
- Stores energy
- Clots and filters out toxins from the blood
- Helps the body fight infections
It’s possible to injure the liver in a variety of ways, including experiencing a single event such as hepatitis, or on a consistent basis, such as through alcohol abuse.
If you’re unable to work because you suffer from cirrhosis, you may be eligible for disability from the Social Security Administration (SSA). However, it’s not easy to obtain benefits for this condition. While chronic liver disease is listed in the SSA’s Blue Book of Impairments under section 5.05, you must meet certain criteria to receive benefits.
To help ensure a successful claim, it’s important to hire an experienced Social Security (SS) attorney to step you through the application process.
Qualifying for Social Security Disability Benefits for Cirrhosis Is Possible
To be eligible for SS disability and meet the requirements of the Blue Book’s chronic liver disease listing, you must be diagnosed with end-stage liver disease or chronic liver disease lasting at least six months and is complicated by one of the following:
- Ascites: excess fluid in the peritoneal cavity
- Hydrothorax: excess fluid in the pleural cavity
- Gastrointestinal or esophageal hemorrhaging
- Hepatorenal or hepatopulmonary syndrome
- Hepatic encephalopathy
- Spontaneous bacterial peritonitis
If you don’t meet these requirements or you’re not sure you suffer from one of these complications, you won’t be automatically approved for benefits from the SSA. However, the agency will look at your medical records to determine if your cirrhosis has caused functional limitations that make it impossible for you to work.
Residual Functional Limitations of Cirrhosis
When determining if your cirrhosis qualifies for benefits, the SSA will look at your “residual functional capacity (RFC).” This assessment will examine the level of exertion you’re capable of handling" and the type of work restrictions that would limit your employment options. A disability claims examiner will work with a medical consultant to review your medical records, doctor notes, and any test results about your ability to work.
For example, if you have pain that limits your ability to lift, walk, or carry items, your doctor needs to state this in your residual functional limits, or RFC, form, along with the amount of time you can work before these tasks become difficult. Your form should also include how your disease creates any mental limitations, such as problems concentrating, remembering, or focusing.
If the claims examiner determines that, despite your limitations, you can still do work, your disability claim will be denied, and the examiner will assess what other work you’re capable of performing.
An applicant who states he has cirrhosis must have medical records that show he’s had esophageal bleeding, as well as ascites, varices, and higher than normal levels of serum bilirubin, a secreted substance. For many patients seeking SS benefits, it’s critical that their medical reports include physical findings, lab results, and a liver biopsy that indicates chronic liver disease. The serious state of an applicant’s cirrhosis must make it impossible for him to work. If you have cirrhosis caused by abusing alcohol it is difficult to get benefits if you continue to use alcohol. Often it is necessary to prove that alcohol use is not material to your disability.
Our Attorneys Can Help You Secure the Benefits You Need
If you’ve been diagnosed with cirrhosis, you may qualify for SS disability benefits. Hiring an experienced SS attorney can help determine if you meet a listing in the Blue Book or your condition could be evaluated under the RFC.
Contact the attorneys at Cuddigan Law who can help you understand the process and work with you on your application to increase your chances of getting an approved claim.