Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Can people with lupus qualify for Social Security Disability benefits?

May is Lupus awareness month.  For this reason, I figure that this is a perfect opportunity to write about the process of applying for Social Security benefits when suffering from this disease.

First, it is important to keep in mind that lupus affects everyone differently. Therefore, not two Social Security Disability benefit cases involving lupus are alike.  Don't expect your Social Security Disability Lawyer to make the same argument, as the lawyer of the person that you met at the waiting room of your rheumatologist’s office. 

Second, bear in mind that not everyone is disabled by lupus. A diagnosis of lupus does not automatically entitle a person to disability benefits.  The Social Security Administration recognizes systemic lupus erythematosus as a potentially disabling illness and includes SLE in their listing of impairments. Nonetheless, if you have been diagnosed with lupus and the disease is affecting your activities of daily living, it is a good idea to be proactive and schedule a consultation with a Social Security Disability Lawyer.   I'm always available for free consultations and don’t mind learning about a person’s case well in advance of the actual date of the “onset of disability” (the date when you can no longer work).   I believe that a conscientious disability attorney should be willing provide you with a free consultation, particularly when you suffer from a serious condition such as lupus. 

One of the reasons why I like to talk to clients well in advance of filing for Social Security Disability Benefits, is that, in order to successfully obtain social security benefits, an applicant must have the support of his or her doctor(s).  Consequently, I urge my clients to ask their doctors if they are willing to fill up social security questionnaires and provide letters in support of their patient’s applications for social security benefits.  Unfortunately, many doctors don’t cooperate with their clients and refuse to fill up these forms regardless of the severity of their patient’s condition. 

There are two basic ways that a person can qualify for Social Security benefits due to lupus.  An individual can meet the requirements of a listing set out in Social Security's list of qualifying impairments or show that he or she is unable to work. 

The list of impairments is essentially a "Blue Book" used by the Social Security Administration to determine whether an individual meets the Social Security definition of disability.  If a person’s condition “meets or equals” the listing, then that person is automatically deemed to be disabled.  The listing for lupus is contained in Section 14.02 of the listing.  However, this listing does not intend to cover all aspects of the disease.  In many instances, Social Security lawyers are able to prove that that a person with lupus is eligible for Social Security Benefits even when the applicant’s condition does not resemble the description contained in the lupus listing.  One way to prove that a person with lupus is entitled to Social Security Disability Benefits is to show that the person’s condition resembles the condition of a listing other than lupus.  Remember, lupus is known as “the great masquerader”.  If the type of lupus that you are afflicted with has been masquerading itself as a heart condition, then you should look at the listing for cardiovascular conditions and see whether you can prove that you meet that section of the listing.  Likewise, if your lupus has characteristics similar to crohn’s disease then, you should consider arguing that you equal listing 5.00 of digestive disorders.
If your condition is severe but not at the same or equal level of severity as a medical condition on the list, then the Social Security Administration must determine if it interferes with your ability to do the work you did previously (during the last 15 years). 

If you cannot do the work you did in the past 15 years, the Social Security Administration will see if you are able to adjust to other work.  The Social Security Administration will consider your medical conditions and your age, education, past work experience and any transferable skills you may have.  If you cannot adjust to other work, your claim will be approved.  If you can adjust to other work, your claim will be denied. 

Back in April, I gave a presentation about Social Security Disability Benefits to the Hartford Chapter of the Lupus Foundation.  I enjoy giving these types of presentations to all different kinds of advocacy and support groups.  I can make these presentations live or via conference call.  If you would like me to give a talk to your organization, please, don’t hesitate to give me a call at (860) 338-5619 or send me an email to