Can I Work With Kidney Failure?

If your kidneys have become severely damaged and are failing and this has impacted your ability to handle your daily activities as well as your ability to work, you may be eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits. Kidney failure is considered under the genitourinary impairment listings.

These listings ensure approval for disability benefits for your condition if you have the need to undergo regular dialysis, have completed a kidney transplant, suffer from nephrotic syndrome, have reduced glomerular filtration combined with the symptoms of damage, or suffer from the serious complications resulting from kidney disease.

If your kidney failure has been treated, but you continue to suffer serious symptoms from the condition that make working impossible, you may be eligible to receive monthly disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). Other symptoms you may experience include peripheral neuropathy which is the inability to filter toxic substances from your bloodstream or you can suffer from renal bone degradation and bone pain.

Even if you take medication, you may still suffer from fluid overload syndrome, massive swelling, vascular congestion, or diastolic hypertension; all of which can also impact your ability to function as well. You can consult the Blue Book to see if you medically qualify.

How Does Kidney Failure Impact Your Ability To Work?

Kidney failure can impact your life on many levels. You may not be able to participate in activities you enjoy, travel, or do your daily activities as well as find yourself unable to work.

While you may be able to arrange things like an altered work schedule to accommodate things like doctor's visits or dialysis, it may be difficult to get past the physical limitations of your condition

The profound pain suffered with kidney failure can make walking, lifting, carrying, grasping, or reaching impossible. Because of this, many work duties are eliminated because of your inability to perform the required tasks. The swelling and edema experienced from fluid overload syndrome can make walking impossible and require frequent repositioning that includes keeping your feet raised above heart level.

Without the ability to stand or sit long periods without repositioning, your ability to perform a multitude of work duties can be significantly impacted. Regular dialysis can impact your overall well-being and result in malaise and fatigue that makes working a regular shift virtually impossible even if you have a sedentary position. You may find yourself in a position where you are unable to groom yourself or even prepare your own meals because of the severity of the tiredness and the aches and pains you suffer.

If you cannot work because of kidney failure, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

What If I Can’t Work, But Don’t Meet The Blue Book Criteria

Sometimes those who are disabled because of a medical condition cannot meet the specific criteria of a medical listing in the Blue Book. If that is the case, you can still get approved for disability benefits.

There is another approach, which is called a medical vocational allowance, that allows for disability claims to be approved. Using this approach, several things are considered and a residual functional capacity (RFC) is filled out in detail.

When a medical vocational allowance is used, your claim taking all your medical conditions, age, work history, transferrable skills, educational background, treatments, symptoms, side effects, and other details are taken into consideration.

They will look at everything together to determine what kind of work – if any – you can do. They will then determine if you qualify for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA).

The RFC is filled out in detail. If your treating physician completes one, that can be very beneficial to your claim. Your treating physician should know more about your limitations, restrictions, and overall health than anyone else would.

The RFC will put the specifics on your abilities, restrictions and limitations. As an example, you may not be able to stand for more than an hour at a time because of your fatigue and edema.

The RFC may indicate that you cannot walk more than 500 feet, you cannot bend, you may not be able to lift more than a couple of pounds, and you may not be able to reach above your head.

It will indicate if you are unable to work around dust or other inhalants, if you must avoid certain chemicals or atmospheres, and what you can and cannot do in detail. Your transferrable skills, work history, educational level, and age are also considered, so they can determine if you can train for a different role or switch to another position.

What If I Can Work, But Not Much

Sometimes you may be able to perform some tasks, but you aren’t able to perform your regular work duties and you definitely cannot work full-time. You may be left wondering where that leaves you and if you qualify for disability benefits.

The SSA uses something called Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) to determine if a claimant is capable of working and earning a living.

If you can demonstrate that you are capable of earning SGA, which is a specific monthly amount that a claimant could normally cover basic living expenses with, then you will not be considered disabled. As of 2020, a non-blind individual cannot earn more than $1,260 per month. That means that if you can work part-time and receive $900 per month, then you may still qualify for disability benefits.

Also, they will look at the number of hours that you are capable of working. As an example, if you are working 40 hours per week and earning less than a minimum wage so your income stays below the SGA, you may not qualify for disability because you are still working enough to be considered a full-time employee. You should speak with an SSA representative or a disability lawyer.

If you are able to work very little, and you earn less than SGA, you may still qualify for disability benefits. Be sure to gather supporting documentation and evidence for your claim. You will need to prove you cannot work enough to earn a living. Evidence is essential to a successful disability claim.

If you are still working, but your medical problems keep you from working enough to attain SGA, then you should start the disability claims process. You will need supporting documentation and evidence to prove that you are unable to work and earn a living.

Because of the technical wording of Social Security criteria and descriptions, you should talk with your physician to see if he or she believes that you are disabled.

You should prepare a list of all your medical providers and be sure to put contact details and the approximate dates of service. With this list, the SSA can work on acquiring copies of all your medical records.

If you already have copies of the medical records, you can send copies along with the files so you can make sure your claim gets underway with the proper supporting documentation.

To get your claim approved, you must have supporting medical documentation and hard medical evidence that shows you have kidney failure as well as the severity of your condition and its symptoms as well as how those symptoms affect you.

Limitations for Specific Jobs

If you suffer from kidney failure, there are specific jobs that you will not even be able to attempt anymore. As an example, if you must undergo dialysis or you have recently had a kidney transplant, you won’t be able to work as a commercial vehicle driver because you won’t have access to the treatment you need when you need it and the frequent sitting can cause the swelling in your legs and feet to worsen significantly.

You will also no longer be able to work as an educator, policeman, or firefighter because of the need for dialysis and wearing a port, the risks of infection, the malaise, and the edema impacting your mobility.

Working in a factory or operating machinery such as saws is impossible if you are suffering from bone pain, severe swelling, and diastolic hypertension. Peripheral neuropathy will make moving your hands and arms unbearable, and the swelling and pain of the legs and feet will make standing or even sitting long periods unbearable so you can’t work on an assembly line or pack goods for shipping. You won’t be able to lift and carry boxed items, so you can’t work in a warehouse or as a stocker.

Because some jobs require a level of physical dexterity and endurance that can fade as a person gets older, it's very common for people over 50 to qualify based on their condition and the job that they were trained for. For example, if you're trying to qualify for benefits for ESRD after age 50, it's more likely that you'd qualify for benefits due to age as it's more difficult to be re-trained for another job at that age.

Working With A Disability Attorney

If you are unable to work because of kidney failure, you will need to get your disability application underway. You can start the claims process online at the SSA’s website or by calling 1-800-772-1213 and speaking with a representative.

You can also schedule an appointment at your local SSA field office. Documentation is essential to the outcome of any disability claim, so you will need to make sure you have all your medical records and supporting evidence in order for review by DDS.

Claimants represented by a disability lawyer are much more likely to have their claim approved. Most claims are denied on the initial review, so you will want a lawyer to file your appeal and to have your claim reconsidered.

An attorney is familiar with the claims process, can make sure that your medical records and documents are all organized and together for review, and that your claim has the supporting evidence that it needs to be approved.

Disability attorneys take cases on a contingency basis, so your lawyer will not be paid until your claim is approved and you receive backpay. You can retain a disability lawyer at any time during the claims process.

Applying for Disability Benefits

If you are now ready to apply for benefits, there are several different ways you can start the process. You can either visit your local SSA office and sit down to talk one-on-one with an employee who will help you step by step with the initial paperwork or you can call toll-free 1-800-772-1213 to talk with a representative over the phone and get the process underway. You can also visit the SSA website to start the application process.

The disability claims process can be time consuming and complicated. It can take months to be approved for benefits. You may find it beneficial to work with an advocate or an attorney, which can significantly improve your odds of being approved for benefits.

Additional Resources

Applying for Disability Benefits for Kidney Failure When Over Age 50
Kidney Transplant and Disability Benefits
How the Blue Book Can Help You with Your Social Security Claim with End Stage Renal Disease