Diabetes, or diabetes mellitus, is a serious medical condition that left untreated, can cause debilitating, even life-threatening health concerns. But diabetes can often be controlled with medical treatment and lifestyle changes, making it difficult to qualify for Social Security disability based on the condition itself.
But that isn't always the case. If your diabetes has caused serious health problems that prevent you from working, you might qualify for disability. Here's what you need to know about how you might qualify for Social Security disability with diabetes.
Your body uses insulin to convert glucose (a type of sugar) into a form your cells can use for energy. When you have diabetes, either you don't produce enough insulin or your cells become insulin resistant, and glucose builds up in your blood. The symptoms of diabetes can include any or all of the following:
There are two types of diabetes, and both can be life-long conditions:
Diabetes can often be controlled with medication and lifestyle changes. But when diabetes goes untreated and too much glucose builds up in your body, long-term—and sometimes disabling—complications can result, including:
Diabetes alone generally isn't enough to qualify you for disability. But if your diabetes has prevented you from working for at least a year, then you might qualify for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or Supplement Security Income (SSI) disability benefits. It is generally easier to get disability benefits if you've developed long-term complications from your diabetes.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has created a Listing of Impairments (the "Blue Book") that explains the criteria you must meet to qualify for disability benefits based on specific medical conditions. But diabetes isn't included in the Blue Book (although some complications of diabetes are).
So you can't be found disabled under the Listing of Impairments simply by showing that you have diabetes. But you might be able to meet one of the listings closely related to the complications of diabetes.
Your diabetes might have caused hyperglycemia, which is an unusually high level of glucose in your blood, or hypoglycemia, which is an unusually low level of glucose in your blood. Both hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia can lead to several other conditions that are included in the listings, such as:
Uncontrolled diabetes can be disabling well before neuropathy or retinopathy are actually diagnosed—or before extreme measures like amputation have to be taken. For instance, high blood glucose can result in fatigue. And low blood glucose can cause impaired brain function, resulting in any or all of the following:
When your blood sugar is too low, you might also experience:
These symptoms can be compared to the fatigue associated with disorders like:
If you're diabetic, you might experience symptoms like balance disturbance, tinnitus, and progressive hearing loss that fluctuates in the same pattern or frequency as Meniere's disease (listing 2.07) or even symptoms of bipolar disorder (listing 12.04).
You'll probably need to hire a disability lawyer, who can creatively argue that your condition equals a listing like the ones mentioned above.
If your diabetes isn't severe enough or hasn't progressed long enough to meet one of the above listings, you might still qualify for disability based on a medical-vocational allowance. If Social Security determines that your condition prevents you from doing any kind of work, you'll qualify for disability.
To determine what kind of work you can be expected to do, Social Security will consider your age, work history, and your residual functional capacity (RFC)—the most that you can do in a job given your condition and limitations. Social Security will consider how well you can still do things like:
Social Security will determine your RFC after reviewing your medical history, including your doctor's statements about your ability to function. Your own statements (as well as those from friends and family) about your limitations will also be considered. You'll then receive an RFC for:
For example, if you have neuropathy in your legs from your diabetes, you might be unable to stand and walk for long periods of time. Your RFC would likely be limited to sedentary work.
If you have poor control over your glucose levels during the day, your RFC might reflect that you can't concentrate for long periods of time. This could affect your ability to perform a large number of jobs.
Similarly, if you suffer from severe fatigue or depression, your RFC might state that you're unable to perform even sedentary work on a consistent and regular basis. That would likely support your disability claim.
And if you're over age 50, Social Security might determine that you're disabled even if you can do sedentary or light work.
Proving you can't work because of your diabetes can be a difficult task. You should work with your doctor to ensure all your diabetes complications and the impairments they cause are well documented in your medical records and shared with Social Security.
Your doctor can help explain how your diabetes prevents you from working by completing an RFC assessment form. There are separate forms for physical RFC and mental RFC. If the complications from diabetes include both physical and mental limitations (like depression or anxiety), you should ask your doctors to fil out both RFC forms.
Learn what you can do if you're filing for disability without a doctor's support.