Are Social Security Disability Benefits Available for Diabetes?

Is it possible to get Social Security disability payments for diabetes? Maybe. Some people with diabetes are successful in their disability claims, but it can be challenging.

There is no listing for diabetes in the Social Security Administration’s Blue Book, which is SSA’s manual for what a claimant has to show in order for an administrative law judge to award disability benefits. People who are disabled by diabetes have to qualify for disability benefits under another listing.

Two Types of Diabetes

There are two recognized types of diabetes—type 1 diabetes, which is a chronic autoimmune disease where a person’s pancreas cannot produce insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. Only 5-10% of people with diabetes have type 1, which usually manifests in childhood. The majority of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, which typically manifests in adulthood, although in recent years, more and more young people and children are being diagnosed with both types of diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes happens when a person becomes resistant to the insulin that their body produces, and so cannot metabolize blood sugar. Risk factors include being more than 45 years old, obesity, high blood pressure, and leading a sedentary lifestyle.

So, if you have diabetes and it’s made you disabled, how can you get disability benefits from SSA without a specific Blue Book listing for diabetes? You may be able to qualify under another Blue Book listing. Diabetes can cause damage to your nerves, limbs, or organs, and some of these common issues can be Blue Book listings.

Complications From Diabetes Can Be Disabling

Complications from diabetes often are listed independently in the Blue Book, like peripheral neuropathy, where a person experiences tremors, partial paralysis, or involuntary movements in at least two extremities that keep them from being able to walk or use their hands. Other complications from diabetes that are listed independently in the Blue Book include kidney failure, cardiovascular problems, vision problems, and amputation of a limb. So someone whose diabetes caused a leg to have to be amputated could try to qualify for disability because their leg was amputated, not because they have diabetes. It would be the same Blue Book listing as someone whose leg was amputated for a different reason, like a car accident.

Disability experts agree that it’s important to list and provide documentation for all your symptoms when applying for disability benefits with SSA. Even if you’re trying to qualify under a particular listing, like low vision, caused by diabetes, it’s important to also show your other symptoms, if you have cardiovascular issues, pain, or other symptoms, even if your symptoms don’t all relate to the listing you’re trying to qualify under. Your other symptoms may help persuade the judge that you are disabled.

Residual Functional Capacity–Is There Other Work You Can Do?

In addition to evaluating whether an applicant meets a Blue Book listing to qualify for disability, the SSA will also make a determination about the applicant’s Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). Residual Functional Capacity is an evaluation of what sort of work a person is capable of doing, whether it’s the job or field they used to work in, or not. If you used to work with heavy machinery, but your diabetes caused tremors in your hands that keep you from doing that kind of work, the judge may decide that you could still do some type of sedentary work.

Judges also may consider a medical-vocational allowance, which takes into account an applicant’s age, education level, and work history, in addition to the person’s RFC. This way, an older person without much education might not be expected to do extensive retraining and begin a new career late in life, if they have complications from diabetes that keep them from doing the work they used to do. This becomes relevant in discussions about getting disability benefits for complications from diabetes, because most people who have diabetes develop type 2 diabetes later in adulthood.

It can be a difficult and roundabout process for people with diabetes to qualify for disability benefits from SSA, but it is possible for people whose complications from diabetes can qualify them under a Blue Book listing for the complication, not the diabetes itself, to receive benefits. Be sure to show medical evidence for all your symptoms, for the complication you’re trying to qualify under and other issues.

Photo courtesy Agencia Brasil Fotografias, licensed under creative commons.