Qualifying for Disability for Liver Disease & Kidney Disease

Disability for Liver Disease & Kidney Disease

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It’s estimated that about 35.5 million people have chronic kidney disease (CKD), while over 100 million people have some form of liver disease. Living with either of these medical conditions can be extremely difficult. It’s true that many patients don’t experience severe symptoms in the early stages. However, both CKD and liver disease can leave individuals unable to work once their condition progresses.

Living with a disability is already overwhelming. Being unable to support yourself financially can cause a number of other hardships. You may not be able to care for your family, pay the mortgage, or receive proper medical care. In these situations, it’s important to know you have options.

For those suffering from chronic kidney disease or liver disease, Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits may be available. Individuals who can’t work can apply for either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Claimants must meet the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) definition of disabled to receive benefits. This involves satisfying the following criteria:

  • The claimant’s disability prevents them from performing Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)
  • The claimant’s disability is expected to last for at least 12 months or result in death
  • The claimant’s disability is in the Blue Book, equals a listed impairment in severity, OR is eligible for a medical-vocational allowance

To qualify for Social Security Disability for kidney disease or liver disease, a claimant must also meet the specific eligibility requirements for either SSDI or SSI.

SSI is a needs-based program for blind, aged, and disabled individuals. To qualify for SSI with a disability, claimants must satisfy the requirements above and have limited income and resources. Additionally, they must be unable to apply for SSDI.

SSDI provides financial assistance to disabled individuals who have contributed to the Social Security System. To qualify for SSDI, it’s necessary to have earned a sufficient number of work credits. Work credits prove a claimant has paid into the Social Security System.

Continue reading to learn more about eligibility for disability benefits with liver or kidney disease.

Is Kidney Disease a Disability?

Chronic kidney disease affects kidney function and eventually results in kidney failure. If the kidneys don’t work properly, waste builds up in the body, leading to a range of symptoms and other health issues. When it impacts a person’s ability to work, the SSA considers it a disability that qualifies for SSD.

While medications can assist in symptom management, many patients are asymptomatic and only become aware of their kidney disease through laboratory testing. Unfortunately, this is how the disease progresses.

In advanced stages of chronic kidney disease, dialysis may be necessary. Dialysis involves the use of a machine to filter the blood. In severe cases, a patient might require a kidney transplant.

Symptoms of CKD

Signs of CKD typically emerge slowly, as the kidneys suffer damage over time. Many people don’t know they even have the disease until it progresses to an advanced stage. In fact, according to the CDC, as many as 9 in 10 adults are unaware that they have CKD.

If you experience any of the symptoms listed below, it is advisable to consult with your physician. These may be signs of untreated kidney disease:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Changes in urination
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Muscle cramps
  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headaches
  • Anemia
  • Sleep issues
  • Brain fog
  • Swelling of the feet and ankles
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Shortness of breath (can be due to fluid build-up in the lungs in severe cases)

Is Liver Disease a Disability?

Liver disease or cirrhosis of the liver can affect a person’s ability to work. It’s in these cases that the SSA considers liver disease a qualifying disability for SSD.

Symptoms in patients with liver disease usually vary in severity depending on the stage of their condition. During the initial phases of liver disease, symptoms are usually mild.

Symptom severity increases as the disease progresses. Cirrhosis of the liver can occur, which is when scar tissue forms and makes it difficult for the liver to function.

Individuals with late-stage liver disease may find it challenging or even impossible to maintain employment.

Symptoms of Liver Disease

Symptoms of liver disease and advanced cirrhosis of the liver can include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain and swelling
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Swelling in the legs and ankles
  • Encephalopathy (confusion caused by toxin build-up in the blood)

Those with advanced cirrhosis may also experience liver failure, internal bleeding, and other severe complications.

How Does the SSA Review Kidney Disease & Liver Disease Disability Claims?

The SSA reviews disability claims in part by referencing the Blue Book. The Blue Book contains numerous qualifying conditions all listed under various body systems.

Kidney Disease

Section 6.00, Genitourinary Disorders in the Blue Book covers kidney disease. Several examples of CKD connected to genitourinary disorders are listed under this section. The listings are as follows:

  • Chronic kidney disease, with chronic hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis
  • Chronic kidney disease, with kidney transplant
  • Chronic kidney disease, with impairment of kidney function
  • Nephrotic syndrome
  • Complications of chronic kidney disease

When reviewing CKD disability claims, the SSA considers the severity of the condition. They look at the qualifying medical criteria as well as other factors, like complications resulting from late-stage CKD. Some examples include:

  • Renal osteodystrophy
  • Kidney transplant
  • Need for ongoing dialysis treatment
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Anorexia
  • Fluid overload syndrome
  • Anasarca
  • Other complications of CKD resulting in hospitalization (such as hypertensive crisis or congestive heart failure)

Under section 6.04, CKD with kidney transplant is evaluated. Following a transplant, claimants are considered disabled for 1 year. The SSA evaluates remaining impairments following this time to determine continuing benefit eligibility.

Liver Disease

Chronic liver disease (CLD) is evaluated under section 5.05 in the Blue Book. This listing is under section 5.00 Digestive Disorders. Individuals with end-stage or chronic liver disease may qualify for SSD.

A claimant can get disability for liver disease if their condition satisfies the qualifying medical criteria under the associated listing. The SSA will look at symptom severity, complications resulting from the condition, and specific laboratory test results.

Severe manifestations of CLD will also be evaluated, such as gastrointestinal hemorrhaging and spontaneous bacterial peritonitis. For listing 5.05G, the SSA will also review SSA CLD scores.

The SSA evaluates liver transplantation under section 5.09. Claimants are considered disabled for 1 year after a transplant. Following this time, the SSA assesses any residual impairments to determine continuing benefit eligibility.

Medical Evidence for Kidney & Liver Disease Claims

When applying for Social Security Disability benefits, claimants must provide supporting medical records and other documentation to the SSA.

For CKD disability claims, the SSA requests the following medical evidence:

  1. Medical records documenting laboratory findings and symptoms of the disease, including:
  1. Laboratory findings that indicate kidney function
  2. Reports from clinical examinations
  3. Records of treatment and documentation of treatment response(s)

The SSA usually requires supporting documentation covering a period of at least 90 days to make a determination.

  1. Estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) findings (for evaluating CKD under listing 6.05)
  2. Pathology report for a kidney or bone biopsy

If the pathology report isn’t available, the SSA will accept a statement from a medical professional confirming the biopsy. This statement should also include information about the biopsy results.

The SSA requests the following medical evidence for chronic liver disease claims:

  1. Medical evidence confirming the existence of CLD and its severity. Medical evidence should include results from physical examinations, past records, surgical reports, and relevant laboratory findings.
  2. General evidence of CLD that highlights the signs and symptoms of the condition.
  3. Laboratory findings such as endoscopy, liver biopsy, and other diagnostic procedure results.
  4. Imaging test results, such as MRI, X-ray, ultrasound, and CT scan.

To meet the criteria of any one listing, additional combinations of disease complications, symptoms, laboratory tests, and imaging may be required. A Social Security Disability lawyer can help ensure your claim if filed properly and includes all necessary medical evidence.

What If Your Disability Doesn’t Meet a Blue Book Listing?

Some claimants with kidney or liver disease don’t meet the Blue Book eligibility criteria. On occasion, these individuals can file for SSD under a different body listing. Otherwise, they may be able to apply for a medical-vocational allowance.

A medical-vocational allowance offers an alternative way for applicants to meet the requirements for disability benefits. The SSA takes into account various factors to determine eligibility in addition to the claimant’s medical diagnosis. These factors include the applicant’s age, work history, level of education, and transferable skills.

The SSA uses a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment to evaluate a claimant’s ability to perform work-related tasks. This may include lifting, walking, or remembering orders and instructions. An RFC assessment takes into consideration both physical capabilities and mental capabilities.

If the claimant can’t perform any previous relevant work, or any new type of work, they will receive benefits. Claimants who are older, have industry-specific work experience, or limited education may be more likely to receive a medical-vocational allowance over other applicants.


Can I Lose Disability Benefits After a Kidney Transplant or Liver Transplant?

The SSA reviews a person’s eligibility for SSD 1 year after a transplant. Upon review, there is a chance the beneficiary will lose benefits.

If they can’t participate in SGA and their daily activities are still restricted due to their condition, they will continue to receive payments. However, if the SSA finds they’re now able to work, they will no longer be eligible for benefits.

At What Stage of Kidney Disease Can You Get Disability Benefits?

You can get disability for kidney disease if your condition prevents you from working and causes severe symptoms and complications. In most cases, claimants who qualify for benefits are in the late stages of CKD.

Is Cirrhosis of the Liver a Disability?

Cirrhosis of the liver can be a qualifying condition if it meets medical requirements outlined in the Blue Book. Furthermore, the condition must impact a claimant’s ability to work.

What If I’m an Alcoholic?

When the SSA evaluates a claim, they don’t focus on the root cause of the disabling condition. Instead, they determine whether or not a claimant is disabled and how their disability affects their ability to work.

However, alcohol abuse does play a role in how the SSA determines SSD eligibility. If a claimant’s disability would cease if they stopped abusing alcohol, they won’t receive benefits. However, if they would remain disabled even if they quit using alcohol, they will qualify for disability benefits.

Contact Slepian Ellexson, PLLC

If you’re asking, “Can I get disability for liver or kidney disease?” you should reach out to a qualified attorney. Working with an experienced Social Security Disability lawyer, such as our attorneys at Slepian Ellexson, PLLC, can increase your chances of obtaining benefits.

Contact our law firm today to schedule a free consultation.

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