Can I Work With Sickle Cell Disease?

Social Security Disability Benefits for Sickle Cell Anemia

If you suffer from sickle cell anemia and your symptoms are so severe you are unable to work, you may be eligible to receive monthly Social Security disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) oversees Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which is a program that pays monthly benefits to those who have become unable to work because of medical conditions if specific requirements are met and you are deemed completely disabled.

The most commonly diagnosed blood disorder, sickle cell anemia impacts one out of every 500 African Americans and one out of every 1,000 to 1,400 Hispanic Americans throughout the country. In sickle cell anemia, your red blood cells are misshapen because they contain abnormal kinds of hemoglobin. These defectively shaped cells can block off your smaller blood vessels, and in turn, cause strokes or tissue damage. Other problems, such as severe anemia, gallstones, jaundice, leg and arm pain, or damage to the liver, spleen, or kidneys may also result. The levels of severity can vary.

Can I work with Sickle Cell Disease?

Impacting Your Ability to Work

Advanced sickle cell anemia can impact your ability to work on many levels. The arm and leg pain can make staying mobile or standing long periods impossible. Organ damage or jaundice can cause weakness, fatigue, and result in the inability to walk long distances, stay in one position long, or sit long periods.

You may also suffer from pains throughout the bodies. Gallbladder issues, such as gallstones, can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Damage to the liver, kidneys or spleen can make lifting or reaching impossible. Medical treatments, such as blood transfusions or kidney dialysis, which are time consuming, may be required. You may suffer dizziness when bending over because of the anemia. You may also experience the lasting effects of strokes or tissue damage, which can impact your ability to walk, talk, or see.

Limitations for Specific Jobs

While your condition can impact you in multiple ways, it can clearly prevent you from doing specific job duties. If you have suffered a stroke because of sickle cell anemia, your speech may have been impacted. This can prevent you from working as a receptionist or in customer service roles because of regularly communicating with customers. You may find yourself unable to reach, lift, or carry because of the severe leg and arm pain you suffer from so you can’t work in shipping or receiving, as a delivery truck driver, in retail stores or warehouses, or for the postal service.

Organ damage can require regular treatments, such as transfusions or dialysis. These can be time consuming and impact your work day making you unable to serve as a teacher, healthcare professional, firefighter, or a police officer. If you suffer from liver problems because of your sickle cell anemia, you may have digestive issues that require frequent bathroom visits; this can prevent you from working as a sales representative, serving in the role of an administrative assistant, or working with animals as a pet groomer or veterinary technician.

Medical Evidence Needed to Qualify

Whenever you are filing a claim for disability or other benefits having medical evidence that proves your case is essential.

The Social Security Administration must be able to see evidence that you have sickle cell anemia in order for you to qualify for disability benefits.

They also must have proof that you meet the Blue Book listing requirements for sickle cell anemia.

The Blue Book is the official listing of all the medical conditions that will make someone eligible for disability benefits.

You can find the Blue Book online or you can find it at your local SSA office. Each listing that is in the book has a set of specific criteria that anyone who is claiming disability benefits must meet in order to be eligible for benefits.

So if you have sickle cell anemia and you are filing a claim for disability benefits you will have to submit a hematological report showing that you have a hematological disorder.

Then you have to have medical evidence showing that you have had one of these three criteria:

  • Painful crises that have been documented requiring either injected or IV narcotics at least 6 times within the last 12 months with at least 30 days between the episodes.
  • Complications of anemia requiring at least three hospital stays within the last 12 months at least 30 days apart. Each hospitalization should last a minimum of 48 hours and can include time in the ER or comprehensive sickle cell disease center immediately prior to hospitalization.
  • Hemoglobin measurements of 7.0 grams or less per deciliter at least three times within a 12-month period with 30 days in between the measurements.
  • You will need to provide a doctor’s diagnosis, hematological reports, evidence of hospital stays, testing results, treatment plans, and any other medical records that are appropriate in order for you to prove your case that you should receive disability benefits.

    Qualifying with Sickle Cell Anemia using Medical Vocational Allowance

    Often people have a medical condition that makes it impossible for them to work but they can’t meet the very strict criteria listed in the Blue Book. When that happens those people might still be able to qualify for disability benefits under a Medical Vocational Allowance.

    To get a Medical Vocational Allowance you need to fill out a form asking for a Residual Functional Capacity evaluation.

    This is an exam done by the Social Security Administration. They will look at the skills that you have, your age, your past jobs, and the medical evidence that you have, and they will determine if there is any type of full-time work that you can do using the skills and experience that you have.

    If they find that there is no job you can do that without retraining or more education then you can still qualify for disability benefits even though you don’t meet the Blue Book criteria.

    To try and get a Medical Vocational Allowance you will need to submit the RFC form with your claim paperwork.

    Applying for Benefits

    If you have decided to apply for Social Security disability benefits, there are several ways you can start the process. You can make a toll-free call to 1-800-772-1213 to start your application over the phone. You can also visit the SSA website. If you prefer a face-to-face approach, you can start the process at your local SSA office by meeting with an employee to get the process underway. Regardless of how you start the application process, you should be aware that the process is time consuming and detailed. It can take months to get a decision.

    Work with a Disability Attorney

    The Blue Book listing for sickle cell anemia is complicated and very technical. It can be difficult to tell whether or not you meet the criteria listed.

    Your doctor can help determine if you meet the requirements for disability benefits based on the Blue Book requirements. But if you don’t meet the listing requirements and you need to file for a Medical Vocational Allowance a disability attorney can be a big help when it comes to making your case.

    An experienced disability attorney can help you file a RFC form, make sure that you have all of your medical evidence documents, and help you through the process of submitting your claim and going through the RFC examination.

    Your claim can be denied, but you can appeal that decision up to two times. A hearing before an administrative law judge may be required for a final decision. Providing detailed medical records and thorough documentation is the key in proving your medical condition and how it hinders your ability to work and function normally in daily life. Medical records, test reports, surgical notes, physician notes, and restrictions and limitations are all needed to support your disability claim. You may also choose to have an advocate or a lawyer to represent you, as that increases your odds of winning approval.