Can I Qualify for Disability if I Have Diabetes?

Published on: July 23, 2019

Diabetes and Disability

Diabetes continues to represent a growing health problem in the United States. Type 1 diabetes, otherwise known as insulin-dependent diabetes, often manifests in childhood and requires daily insulin injections and monitoring of blood sugar levels. Individuals with Type 1 diabetes are unable to produce insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes, also called adult-onset diabetes, happens when the body's cells grow resistant to insulin and fail to process enough glucose. Most common in those over 45, Type 2 diabetes is usually related to obesity, high blood pressure, and a sedentary lifestyle, but genetic factors may also play a role.

Fortunately, there are treatments available that can diminish the effects of both types of diabetes on the body and allow people suffering from the disease to lead normal, productive lives. That begs the question: If diabetes is manageable, does that mean that you cannot apply for disability because of diabetes? 

Diabetes Statistics in the United States and Florida

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 30 million Americans—about 9.5% of the U.S. population—have diabetes. The majority have Type 2 diabetes, with only about 5-10% of diabetics suffering from Type 1. In addition, nearly 85 million Americans—more than one in three—have pre-diabetes, a condition that, if not treated, often leads to type 2 diabetes within five years. Florida ranks higher than the national average, with 13% of the adult population (approximately 2,400,000 people) suffering from the disease. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) also reveals that an estimated 579,000 Floridians have diabetes but don’t know it, greatly increasing their health risk. 

Receiving Disability for Diabetes

In many cases, Social Security Disability benefits are not available to those with controlled diabetes; most cases of diabetes are manageable with proper treatment, and in order to qualify for disability, your condition has to continue to be disabling despite the application of recommended medical treatment.

However, just because diabetes is the condition you suffer from, that does not mean that you have no chance of qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits. While not usually considered disabling on its own, diabetes can cause numerous other conditions that can qualify as being disabling enough for SSDI benefits.

6 Diabetes Complications That Can Qualify You for Disability

1. Loss of Extremities

Poorly controlled blood sugar that occurs with diabetes can limit the flow of blood to the lower legs and toes, causing nerve damage that may require amputation. People with advanced diabetes may also develop wounds or sores that won’t heal, eventually resulting in loss of the damaged toe or portion of the foot or leg. “Each year, approximately 200,000 non-traumatic amputations occur,” writes Dr. Foluso A. Fakorede in The American Journal of Managed Care®. “In the United States, every 17 seconds someone is diagnosed with diabetes, and every day 230 Americans with diabetes will suffer an amputation.” Furthermore, the ADA reports that cases of amputation are on the rise. 

Anyone whose employment requires the use of his or her legs would likely be considered permanently disabled by such a procedure. However, it is important to retain copies of any medical records proving the necessity of the amputation to present when applying or attending a hearing.

2. Neuropathy

Another effect of the abnormal blood glucose levels caused by diabetes on the circulatory system is the damaging of blood vessels that supply nutrients to vital nerves in the body. It’s estimated that 30 million Americans suffer from Neuropathy, with the majority (60%) being diabetics. Neuropathy causes tingling, numbness, burning, or pain in the toes or fingers which gradually spreads upward. Left untreated, a person may suffer from any of the following conditions:

  • Loss of all sense of feeling in the affected limbs
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Abnormal sweat gland operation
  • Charcot's Joint (joint breaking down because of nerve damage)
  • Paralysis of the eye or double vision
  • Muscular weakness

These effects of neuropathy are the result of nerves in the human body shutting down or malfunctioning because of permanent damage. Such effects could be considered disabling by the SSA if they are severe enough to substantially limit your ability to perform the work you have been engaged in up to the time in which the disabling condition occurs. 

3. Cardiovascular Disease

Diabetes dramatically increases the risk of cardiovascular problems, including:

  • Coronary artery disease with chest pain (angina)
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke and narrowing of arteries (atherosclerosis)

If you have diabetes, you're more likely to have heart disease or stroke. In fact, the American Diabetes Association website states that the chances of a person with diabetes having a stroke are two to four times higher than non-diabetic people. 

Any damage to brain tissue from a stroke is usually irreversible by current medical technology, and many of the conditions that can arise from a diabetic stroke will prevent the victim from pursuing many forms of employment, physical or otherwise. Disabilities resulting from a diabetic stroke are likely to be permanent and will satisfy the SSA's requirements concerning the duration of a disabling condition. 

4. Nephropathy (Kidney Disease)

The kidneys contain millions of tiny blood vessel clusters that work to filter waste and toxins from the blood. Diabetes can damage this system leading to kidney failure or irreversible end-stage kidney disease, which may require dialysis or a kidney transplant. These conditions are likely to satisfy the SSA’s disability requirements.

5. Vision and Hearing Impairment

Diabetes can damage the blood vessels of the retina (diabetic retinopathy) and in severe cases, may lead to blindness. It can also cause other serious vision conditions, including cataracts and glaucoma. In addition, hearing impairment is more common in people with diabetes.

6. Alzheimer's Disease

Scientists are finding more evidence that could link Type 2 diabetes with Alzheimer’s disease. The belief is that the poorer your blood sugar control, the greater the risk of Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and fatal brain disorder that gradually destroys a person’s memory and ability to learn, reason, make judgments, communicate and carry out daily activities, which means those suffering from it can qualify for SSA disability benefits.

Seeking Disability for Diabetes

The Social Security Administration does not examine applicants based solely on what specific diseases the applicant has, but on how severely the disease or condition impairs the applicant's ability to perform tasks required for work. While the SSA does recognize some conditions that are severe enough to be almost automatically disabling, there is no comprehensive list of diseases that can or cannot be accepted as disabling. It is often the case that the SSA will make their decision based on a combination of conditions affecting an applicant rather than just on any single disease.

If you believe that your diabetes has caused complications that will have a lasting effect on your ability to work, it may be worth seeking expert assistance in determining if you are eligible for SSDI benefits. Even if the diabetic condition itself is not normally so disabling that you would think to file for Social Security benefits, it is worth investigating the way in which diabetes could cause other disabling conditions or aggravate existing conditions to the point of functional disability.

You should not feel embarrassed about filing for disability simply because it is not on the long list of approved medical conditions on the SSA's bluebook webpage. Even if the diabetes itself is not so thoroughly disabling that it prevents work, it can add to the list of contributing factors preventing work. Be informed about your options concerning Social Security Disability benefits. Contact a Disability Expert today.

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