What Factors Does Social Security Consider in a Diabetes Disability Case
Posted May 06 2009 12:28pm
Many Social Security disability claimants have been diagnosed with diabetes. What does it take to win? Here is a question I received from a reader of this blog:
Jane, my girlfriend of 25 years (54 yrs old) has been diagnosed with Type I Diabetes for 35 years. She has had a number of problems over the years (uncontrollable diarrhea, Retinopathy, Neuropathy) all of which were more or less under control until recently. She has suffered a massive hemorrhage in one of her eyes and is completely blind in one eye. The eye may be able to be helped by surgery but one thing is for certain it will never be as good as it was 3 weeks ago. Jane has been employed as a land surveyor (self employed last 10 yrs) for 30 years and it is very difficult to carry on with the physical impairments brought on by diabetes. Given her age I would very much like to get her on a government sponsored disability program so as to supplement my earnings while waiting for SS retirement to kick in at age 62. Do you think I have any chance of this? Given your experience which of the numerous symptoms of diabetes are the easiest to document for a SSDI claim?
Here are my thoughts: under Social Security's definitions, Jane is "closely approaching advanced age" and has a skilled work background, and quite possibly transferrable skills. Her educational background is not mentioned but I will assume that she has a college education. As such, it is unlikely that any of the medical-vocational guidelines (the grid rules) will apply.
I would therefore analyze her case as being one that either meets or equals the diabetes listing, or I would use an argument that her functional capacity for work has been so impaired by her diabetes and complications that she would not be a reliable worker.
In my experience, because Social Security judges see so many instances of diabetes it is very difficult to win a "listing" argument unless the retinopathy or neuropathy has become extremely severe and irreversible. I have won a few diabetes listing cases but only when my client is a "brittle diabetic" who cannot keep his blood sugar under control with insulin or even an insulin pump.
Jane's hemorrhage suggests that the retinopathy has become severe, but I would not assume that the hemorrhage alone is sufficient to win a listing argument.
Based on what you write, I am thinking that a "functional capacity" argument would give her the best odds for winning. Functional capacity arguments look to reliability factors - such as the need to take unscheduled breaks, missed time from work, the need for unscheduled bathroom breaks, loss of capacity concentrate and focus, etc. If you can find a treating doctor to support her claim by filling out a functional capacity checklist that identifies significant work activity limitations, she has a good argument.
I think that her long and consistent work history works in her favor as does her perseverence in fighting through uncomfortable symptoms.