Is Diabetes a Disability in the USA? (Updated for 2023)
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People with disabilities require special protections and reasonable accommodations in their everyday lives.
But what if the disability is invisible, like diabetes mellitus (an endocrine system disorder)? Is diabetes a disability in the USA?
Here's everything you should know about how diabetes is classified and the disability benefits you can get for your medical condition.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) consider diabetes mellitus a disability.
Diabetes is an endocrine disease where the pancreas cells fail to produce enough of the hormone insulin (type 1 diabetes), or the body cells have trouble utilizing the hormone (type 2 diabetes).
These issues result in abnormal glucose metabolism, where the body's cells can't absorb it from the blood, resulting in excess blood sugar passing to the kidneys and excreted with urine.
People with uncontrolled diabetes can exhibit some of the following symptoms before being diagnosed:
Unintentional weight loss
Mood changes and irritability
Abnormally high blood glucose levels
If left uncontrolled or poorly controlled, diabetes complications range from neuropathy to loss of peripheral vision. It could progress to diabetic ketoacidosis, which could lead to cerebral edema (fluid on the brain).
In some cases, yes, you can. If living with diabetes presents challenges that prevent you from being able to work, you can qualify to receive social security disability benefits.
Although type 1 and type 2 diabetes are recognized as disabilities, most cases are controlled, and the person living with them can handle them alongside a full-time job. Applying for disability benefits in such cases would likely end up in rejection.
However, when the person's medical condition gets so adversely affected by the diabetes diagnosis that they're unable to work, they qualify for disability benefits.
Diabetes can cause several health impairments that affect the ability of the person to function normally. If you're facing one or more of the following serious health problems, then your disability claim might get accepted:
Neuropathy is a condition that happens when a person has chronic hyperglycemia, where high blood sugar and triglycerides in the blood cause damage to the nervous system.
The most common type of diabetic neuropathy is peripheral neuropathy, which affects 1/3 to 1/2 of people with diabetes. It causes nerve damage in the limbs, mostly the legs and feet.
Other types of diabetic neuropathy include autonomic neuropathy, proximal neuropathy, and focal neuropathy.
Diabetic retinopathy refers to the damage done to the blood vessels that move blood to the eye's retina, which is the part responsible for reacting to light.
After years of sustained disturbance to blood glucose levels, the patient starts experiencing floating dark spots that result from bleeding blood vessels in the eye.
Scarring causes a significant loss of peripheral vision and visual acuity, sometimes leading to complete vision loss.
The body relies on the kidneys to filter out excess salts and waste products to pass them out in the urine.
When a person with diabetes experiences high blood sugar levels, glucose also passes through the urinary tract, resulting in diabetic nephropathy.
Due to the large molecular size of glucose compared to other particles, kidney damage happens in the process.
One of the least-discussed conditions that result from poorly controlled type 1 or type 2 diabetes is cognitive impairment.
Mental illness in the form of anxiety and depression could directly result from chronic hyperglycemia. It could become a disabling condition if the person fails to control their illness due to severe diabetes distress and burnout.
When there's not enough insulin to allow blood sugar to enter body cells, the body relies on breaking down fat for energy, which results in byproducts called ketones.
DKA is the build-up of ketones in the blood, which lowers the blood's pH significantly. It can cause serious problems such as cardiac arrhythmias, seizures, and cerebral edema that could lead to loss of consciousness.
In type 1 diabetes and some cases of type 2 diabetes, insulin therapy is administered to control blood glucose levels.
If people take their insulin dose but forget to eat, they may face hypoglycemia, which means low blood sugar.
Symptoms of hypoglycemia include:
Dizziness and disorientation
Low blood sugar could lead to a hypoglycemic coma and death in some unfortunate cases.
Depending on the type of benefits you qualify for, you can present your disability application for one of the following programs:
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is the type of disability benefits you can apply for if you could work at some point but can't work anymore due to severe symptoms.
Filing for SSDI benefits with a diabetes diagnosis requires the following documents:
Complete medical records: This medical documentation includes blood tests, diagnostic reports, and other medical evidence proving your condition. If you've ever been hospitalized for diabetes complications, add the hospital bills and prescriptions you took home after your stay.
Work history: Bring along all your work credits that prove how long you've worked full-time and the taxes you've paid in the last 5 of the past 10 years. The decision for the SSDI program depends on your work history, so if you don't meet the requirements, you can apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) conducts a disability evaluation to determine a person's eligibility for disability benefits through their social security disability programs.
Unlike SSDI benefits, which are tied to a person's professional history, SSI benefits are available for people with disabilities of all ages with limited income.
To qualify for disability benefits under the SSI program (Supplemental Security Income), you have to fit under the medical requirements for your condition and provide proof of your income, which should be under a certain threshold.
It's possible to qualify for SSDI and SSI benefits if you have a long work history and currently limited income sources.
Even if you qualify for disability, receiving the first benefits payment usually takes some time.
For SSDI, you should prove the disability started 6 months before your first payment. After 24 months, you will qualify for Medicare.
The only exception to this rule is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), where patients start receiving benefits and qualify for Medicare immediately.
You receive the benefits for SSI one month after your claim is filed and accepted. You also qualify for Medicaid as soon as your application passes.
The previous durations reflect the time between having your claim accepted and your first payment.
That said, the waiting duration before you're found to qualify for benefits depends on several factors, including the length of the waiting list and the severity of the health problems.
Sometimes, the committee's first reaction only considers some of your documentation.
If your initial application for SSDI or SSI is rejected, you can appeal the decision within a certain window.
To ensure a better chance with the appeal, you should provide any further proof you acquired after the first application, including any additional tests or doctor's prescriptions.
You can apply for disability for diabetes through one of the following methods:
A toll-free number
An arranged appointment at your local Social Security Office
Make sure you bring all the necessary documentation, which includes:
Age and social security number (SSN)
Blood tests and other lab results
All medical facility visits, including doctor's appointments and hospital visits
Any treatment you receive for your condition
If you're applying for SSDI, then bring along the following as well:
Work information, including employment history and all locations you worked at
A copy of a federal tax return if you're self-employed
Knowing that some conditions related to diabetes can allow you to claim disability benefits is a relief for many Americans.
Whether you used to have a full-time position but can't work anymore or are a person with limited income sources, you can find a social security disability benefits program that works for your case.