An individual may qualify for Social Security disability benefits based on uncontrolled diabetes or related symptoms and/or co-morbidities like peripheral neuropathy, kidney disease, or poor vision. While diabetes that is well-controlled with medication won’t typically form the basis of a successful claim on its own, most disability applicants with diabetes also suffer from other medical problems that limit their ability to work. When filing for disability benefits for diabetes, it’s important to list all your symptoms and diagnoses, even those unrelated to your diabetes.
Diabetes is a chronic medical condition marked by an inability to process glucose in the blood. When the pancreas fails to produce sufficient amounts of the hormone insulin, which sends signals to other body cells to absorb excess glucose, blood sugar levels rise. Elevated blood sugar levels often can be controlled through medication and diet, but persistently high blood sugar levels may give rise to neuropathy (nerve damage) causing numbness, burning, and tingling in the extremities. Other complications of diabetes include cardiovascular disease, kidney problems, skin infections, and visual changes.
Type 1 diabetes, often referred to as insulin-dependent diabetes, typically manifests in childhood and requires daily insulin injections and monitoring of blood sugar levels. Individuals with Type 1 diabetes are unable to produce the insulin which regulates blood sugar levels. Only about five to ten percent of diabetic individuals suffer from Type 1 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes, also called adult-onset diabetes, occurs when the body’s cells become resistant to insulin and thus fail to process sufficient amounts of glucose. Type 2 diabetes is most common in those over 45, and it is strongly associated with obesity, high blood pressure, and a sedentary lifestyle. Genetic factors also play a role in the development of Type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes is generally treated by endocrinologists, who prescribe medication, blood sugar monitoring, and lifestyle changes to control the disease.
In 2011, Social Security removed its disability listings for endocrine disorders, including diabetes, from its “Blue Book”, a list of impairments that automatically qualify for disability. As a result, it’s no longer possible to get approved for disability based on a listing specifically for diabetes, but you may be able to “meet” other listings depending on the severity of your symptoms. For example, a person can match the requirements for Listing 11.14 for peripheral neuropathy, when he or she, in spite of treatment, experiences involuntary movements, tremors, or partial paralysis in two extremities that makes it difficult to walk or use his or her hands. Diabetic retinopathy that causes less than 20/200 vision in the better eye would meet Listing 2.02. Other complications and co-morbidities related to diabetes, from kidney failure to cardiovascular issues to amputation of a limb, could also meet or “equal” one of the Blue Book listings.
Even if you do not meet or equal a listing, you can still qualify for disability under a medical-vocational allowance if the symptoms of your diabetes prevent you from performing your past work or any other jobs in the economy. A medical-vocational allowance takes into account your age, education, vocational history, and residual functional capacity (RFC) in deciding whether you’re capable of meeting the demands of any full-time work. Your RFC is an assessment that how much you can still do despite your impairments. For example, an individual with peripheral neuropathy might submit medical evidence mentioning an unsteady gait, poor fine motor control, or numbness and tingling in the extremities. Or an individual with chronic hyperglycemia might submit evidence from a psychiatrist documenting difficulty concentrating and fatigue that in1terferes with his or her ability to sustain full-time work.
By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®