Sickle Cell Disease and Social Security Disability

Sickle Cell Disease, also referred to as sickle cell anemia, can be a severe and debilitating condition. In some cases, individuals suffering from the condition are unable to work due to the “episodes” the disease causes. This inability to work, combined with the medical bills incurred due to the condition, often create severe financial hardships for individuals suffering from Sickle Cell Disease. Fortunately, Social Security Disability benefits may be able to help ease the financial burden caused by this disability. If you are suffering from Sickle Cell Disease and are interested in applying for disability benefits, the following information may help you through the Social Security Disability application process.

Sickle Cell Disease - Condition and Symptoms

Sickle Cell Disease is a serious condition that is caused by an abnormal type of hemoglobin in the red blood cells. This hemoglobin, referred to as hemoglobin S., distorts the shape of the red blood cells and causes them to become crescent shaped and fragile. As a result, the red blood cells carry less oxygen to the tissues of the body and may cause clogs in the blood vessels, which can disrupt the flow of blood through the body.

Sickle Cell Disease is normally an inherited condition. Patients suffering from the condition often experience episodes of intense pain and chronic anemia. It is not uncommon for these individuals to experience weakness, fatigue, fainting spells and, in severe cases, even cardiac arrest.

The symptoms of Sickle Cell Disease often occur in “episodes” that can last from a few hours to a few days. While some patients will only experience an episode once every few years, others may experience many episodes per year and, if severe enough, these episodes may even result in a hospital stay. Symptoms of a Sickle Cell Disease episode include abdominal pain, bone pain, fatigue, fever, jaundice, breathlessness, increased heart rate and skin ulcers.

There is currently no cure for Sickle Cell Disease, although treatments are available to help patients manage the episodes and the pain associated with the condition. It is important for individuals who suffer from Sickle Cell Disease to take medications and supplements (such as folic acid) on a consistent basis and not just when episodes occur. A medication called Hydroxyurea may reduce the number of episodes an individual experiences, but this treatment does not work for everyone. In some cases, patients may require a blood transfusion to treat a severe Sickle Cell Disease episode.

When diagnosing Sickle Cell Disease your doctor may order a variety of tests including a complete blood count, a hemoglobin electrophoresis and a sickle cell test. Other tests that may be conducted include bilirubin tests, blood oxygen tests, CT scans and MRIs. Your doctor may also check your white blood cell count and may test for blood in your urine.

Filing for Social Security Disability with Sickle Cell Disease

When filing for Social Security Disability benefits due to Sickle Cell Disease you will need to prove that your condition is severe enough to prevent you from performing substantial gainful work activity. When evaluating a claim for Social Security Disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) refers to a listing of impairments known as the “Blue Book”. Sickle Cell Disease is included in the Blue Book of listings under Section 7.02, which covers hematological disorders.

It is important to understand that even though Sickle Cell Disease is included in the SSA's listing of impairments, a diagnosis of Sickle Cell Disease is not enough to qualify you for disability benefits in and of itself. In order to qualify for disability benefits due to Sickle Cell Disease, your medical records must show documented painful thrombotic episodes that have occurred at least three times during the five months prior to your disability determination, evidence of severe anemia with hematocrit levels of lower than 27 percent or at least three hospital stays during the past 12 months due to your condition. You may also qualify if you have a related condition resulting from the Sickle Cell Disease that meets other SSA disability guidelines.

If your Sickle Cell Disease condition falls within the above guidelines, your chances of receiving an approval at the initial stage of the Social Security Disability claim process are better than most. If your Sickle Cell Disease does not meet the above guidelines but still prevents you from being able to work, you may still be able to obtain Social Security Disability benefits. You may, however, be required to file an appeal to obtain the benefits you need.

Sickle Cell Disease and Your Social Security Disability Case

Not all cases of Sickle Cell Disease are the same. Some patients may easily qualify for Social Security Disability benefits while others may have to go through an extensive appeal process in order to obtain the benefits they are entitled to. Overall, only 30 percent of applications received by the SSA are actually approved at the initial stage of the application process.

If your initial application for disability benefits is denied by the SSA, you may want to consider hiring a Social Security Disability attorney in order to increase your chances for obtaining benefits during the disability appeal process. Statistics show that individuals with legal representation during the appeal process are more likely to be approved for benefits than those who do not have a lawyer representing them. A consultation with an attorney prior to filing your initial claim can be beneficial as well.