Pulmonary Tuberculosis (TB) and Social Security Disability

While not as common as it once was, Pulmonary Tuberculosis, or TB, is still a prominent bacterial infection that affects thousands of individuals each year. Particularly aggressive TB infections, though they originate in the lungs, can additionally spread to other organs, causing severe damage and making the disease much more difficult to treat.

Symptoms and Prognosis of TB

TB infections can go dormant, causing no symptoms for long periods, and then resurface. For this reason, many who suffer from TB were infected at a much younger age and only experience pronounced symptoms of the condition later in life, when the infection becomes active and begins to produce ongoing, daily symptoms that can worsen significantly over time.

Early TB symptoms include fatigue, fever, difficulty breathing, pain in the chest, and swollen lymph gland. Other symptoms include unexplained weight loss, rapid heart rate, and night sweats. Wheezing, a productive cough that produces sputum, and blood in the sputum are all among the more advanced signs of the illness.

TB is an illness that can often be treated with heavy antibiotics over a period of several months. However, in more advanced cases where the infection has spread to other organs, and with treatment-resistant strains of TB, qualification for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits is possible. If your TB has prevented you from maintaining gainful employment for a period of at least 12 months, or if it is expected to take more than 12 months to resolve your severe infection, you may be eligible for disability benefits.

Qualifying for Disability with TB

Because TB is typically a very treatable condition, especially when diagnosed in its early stages, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has not dedicated disability listing for the disease in its Blue Book, which is the manual of potentially disabling conditions that used to review SSD applications. Since there is no listing for you to match with your application and your supporting medical records, your disability claim must be reviewed through different means to determine if you’re eligible to receive disability benefits.

The SSA will first review your application and all your medical records to determine if your TB “matches” another listed condition in the Blue Book. This simply means the SSA will review your application to see if your TB is equal in severity to a condition that does appear in the Blue Book. Common conditions TB applications can match include:

Matching a Listed Condition with Medical Evidence

The documentation you have to support your claim for disability benefits must specifically satisfy the requirements of a listed condition or it must show you’re residual functional capacity if severely affected by your TB and the symptoms of the condition from which you suffer. Among the medical documentation you’ll need in your claim either way is:

  • Evidence that your breathing is worsening over time due to your TB and that the long term affects of the condition will be circulatory issues, lung restriction, or eventually, respiratory failure
  • Test results showing inflammation in the lung tissue and extensive scarring in your respiratory system
  • Decreased lung efficiency test results, showing poor exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide
  • Statements from your treating physician(s) explaining the impairment from which you suffer and the expected course of your illness, including the short and long term affects of the condition on your ability to complete everyday tasks and typical job duties

Residual Functional Capacity and TB Disability Applications

If you’re unable to match a listed condition in the SSA’s Blue Book, you may still be able to qualify for disability benefits under a medical vocational allowance. To determine if you meet the guidelines for this “exception”, the SSA will evaluate your residual functional capacity. Your job qualifications, employment and education history, and your acquired job skills, among other things, will all be reviewed to determine if you are unable to find and maintain gainful employment in any field (not just your traditional career) due to your TB.

Getting Assistance with Your TB Disability Claim

Because TB is not typically a disabling condition, as it commonly responds well to available treatments, proving an SSD claim based on this diagnosis can be challenging. Most disability applications for TB are initially denied for this very reason. Seeking assistance when filing your initial application can be beneficial, and having the help of a Social Security Disability advocate or attorney in appealing a denial is also advisable.

Additional Resources