Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits with High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is one of the most common conditions in the United States, affecting about 70 million Americans, or one in three, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported.
Though hypertension is more often seen in older adults, it affects all ages.
If you're suffering from high blood pressure and struggling to make ends meet, there may be help available. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers financial benefits programs for those unable to work due to a disability.
The Financial Costs of High Blood Pressure
Because high blood pressure is so widespread, the CDC estimated that it costs the country over 46 billion dollars each year, including health care and medication expenses, as well as losses from missed work days.
Almost half of these costs are due to prescription drugs.
On average, hypertension costs each person $733 extra every year, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, though individuals of Hispanic or African descent are more often affected by high blood pressure and were found to pay closer to $1,000 per year on average.
Of those 70 million patients, only about half have their high blood pressure under control, the CDC explained. This can increase costs exponentially because hypertension leads to heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure, and stroke.
Medically Qualifying for Benefits with the Blue Book
The Blue Book is the SSA's official guide to disabilities that qualify for benefits. Whenever the SSA receives an application for benefits, they use the Blue Book to determine if the disability meets or equals any of the listed impairments and its medical requirements.
High blood pressure doesn't have a specific listing. You should apply for benefits under the listing for the affect body system. Some commonly used listings are:
- Section 2.00—Special Senses and Speech
- Loss of central visual sharpness, with vision at 20/200 after best correction.
- Contraction of visual field, with the widest diameter around the point of fixation is 20 degrees or less, the total amount of vision loss (the mean deviation or defect or MD) is 22 decibels (dB) or higher, or a visual field efficiency (the combination of visual clarity and visual field) is 20 percent or less, despite corrective measures.
- A visual impairment value of 1.00 after best correction.
- Section 3.00—Respiratory System
- Cor pulmonale (failure of the right side of your heart) due to high blood pressure, with mean pulmonary artery pressure greater than 40 mm Hg or low arterial oxygen levels measured twice within a consecutive six-month period.
- Section 4.00—Cardiovascular System
- Chronic heart failure, with at least three episodes of acute heart failure in a 12-month period, symptoms that seriously limit your ability to perform daily activities without assistance, or the inability to do an exercise tolerance test at 5 METs because of difficulty breathing, fatigue, premature ventricular contractions, low systolic pressure, or decreased blood flow to the brain causing symptoms like mental confusion or trouble walking.
- Ischemic heart disease, that despite prescribed treatment occurs with, the inability to perform an exercise tolerance test at 5 METs, three or more separate episodes of blocked blood vessels requiring surgery to open (i.e. vascular bypass), or coronary artery disease.
- Symptomatic congenital heart disease, with documented low blood oxygen levels or obstructions in the blood vessels of the lungs.
- Section 6.00—Genitourinary Disorders
- Chronic kidney disease, with dialysis, transplant, or reduced kidney function shown by a low glomeruler filtration rate and with renal bone disease, peripheral neuropathy, anorexia with weight loss, or an overload of fluid causing hypertension or vascular congestion.
- Section 11.00—Neurological Disorders
- Central nervous system vascular accident, resulting in difficulty with speech or communication, or damage to two lower extremities that cause problems with walking, fine movements, or large movements.
Talk to your doctor if your high blood pressure is interfering with your ability to work.
Qualifying Without Meeting a Medical Listing
If your high blood pressure is causing you serious health problems, but you don't meet any of the Blue Book listings, there is another way to get approved.
If your disability is expected to last for a year and keeps you from working a job that makes the SSA's minimum monthly limit of $1,130 in 2016, then you may be able to apply with a medical-vocational allowance
Using a series of grid rules, the SSA looks at the physical and mental limitations caused by your condition, as well as your work and education history to determine your Residual Functioning Capacity (RFC).
With this information, the SSA will try to find jobs you can do with your abilities within your work skills that won't require much training.
At crisis levels of hypertension, patients may have severe headaches, anxiety, shortness of breath, and nosebleeds, though many with high blood pressure don't show specific symptoms.
More commonly, high blood pressure causes other complications that may keep you out work, like aneurysms, kidney disease, cognitive impairments, vision damage, heart problems, and stroke.
Many are affected by high blood pressure, and ultimately, the severity of your resulting complications will determine your chances of getting approved for benefits.
However, individuals with a college degree in business will have a lower chance of approval than someone without a degree who has worked in a manual job such as construction or the military.
How to Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits
Talk to your doctor before applying for disability benefits, because application process is very long and stressful. If approved, your decision may not come for a couple years, only after various appeals.
If your doctor doesn't think your likelihood of SSA approval is high, then it may not be worth completing the application.
If you decide to apply for benefits, whether with the Blue Book or an RFC, your best chance of a quick and painless application is to include all of the medical evidence the SSA requires for your condition.
Important medical evidence will include:
- Blood pressure test.
- Medical imaging tests, like a chest X-ray, MRI, ultrasound, or CT scan.
- Electrocardiograms (EKG/ECG), to test the electrical activity of your heart, either at rest, while exercising (also known as an exercise tolerance test), or while performing normal activites (or Holter monitoring)
- Blood, urine, vision, or neurological testing to determine resulting complications.
- Glomeruler filtration rate test (eGRF) to determine how the kidneys are working.
- Echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to create images of the heart to examine it's structure and movements.
- Cardiac catheterization to show if any arteries are blocked.
- A detailed report from your doctor and/or your cardiologist describing the symptoms and limitations of your hypertension.
- Summaries of any prescribed treatments and their outcomes.
- Reports of any operations or hospitalizations related to your high blood pressure.
You can apply for benefits by making an appointment at your local SSA office or by using their online application. Keep in mind, if you're applying for Supplementary Security Income (SSI), you need to apply in person at an SSA office.
No matter how you apply, be sure to double check your application for any mistakes, unanswered questions, or missing documents. Many applicants are denied or delayed simply because they didn't include all of the information needed by the SSA.
Avoid this by using the SSA's document checklist, which can be found on their website, or by calling them with any questions about your claim.
If your conditions worsens while your wait for an answer, or there is new evidence, such as surgeries or changes in medication, let the SSA know as soon as possible. New information in your case could help the SSA come to a favorable decision faster.
If you’re approved for benefits, your spouse and children may also be eligible for benefits. To learn more about the different forms about disability benefits, visit our pages on Social Security Disability Insurance.