Facts about Cystic Fibrosis and Filing for Disability
These selected pages answer some of the most basic, but also some of the most important, questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim for disability benefits.
Facts about the condition
1. Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder, inherited through families.
2. Cystic fibrosis is life-threatening and shortens the life span of the affected individual.
3. The condition causes bodily secretions such as mucus, sweat, digestive juices, and saliva, primarily in the lungs and pancreas, to become thick and sticky. This causes clogging, blockages, and inflammation in the passageways of organs.
4. Signs and symptoms of cystic fibrosis vary by age and also severity of the condition. Onset can occur in newborns or children and young adults, and in these stages different signs of cystic fibrosis are evident.
5. Newborns may have difficult passing their first stools in the initial days after birth. They may also show limited or failed growth, bulky and greasy stools, and respiratory infections.
6. Children and young adults commonly have salty skin and limited growth, and may also have bowel blockages, foul-smelling, greasy looking stools and rectal prolapsed. Signs and symptoms also include thick sputum as well as frequent coughing and wheezing, and chest and sinus infections with pneumonia and bronchitis. Clubbing of the fingers and toes may also occur, but is also a sign of lung and heart conditions.
7. Tests to diagnose cystic fibrosis are primarily newborn screening and sweat tests. Newborn screening is a somewhat unreliable blood test which is followed by a sweat test if the screen has a positive result. Sweat tests measure the amounts of sodium and chloride in sweat secretion, since those with cystic fibrosis have abnormally high levels of sodium and chloride.
8. Since cystic fibrosis causes a multitude of problems throughout the body, regular scans and blood tests are conducted to monitor lung, liver, pancreas, and digestion functioning, including vitamin deficiencies, infections and onset of other conditions such as diabetes. X-rays and CT scans show damage and infection in the lungs.
9. The most series complications of cystic fibrosis are respiratory and nutritional. If not managed and treated properly these conditions, particularly in the lungs, can become fatal.
Qualifying for disability benefits with this condition
Whether or not you qualify for disability and, as a result, are approved for disability benefits will depend entirely on the information obtained from your medical records.
This includes whatever statements and treatment notes that may have been obtained from your treating physician (a doctor who has a history of treating your condition and is, therefore, qualified to comment as to your condition and prognosis). It also includes discharge summaries from hospital stays, reports of imaging studies (such as xrays, MRIs, and CT scans) and lab panels (i.e. bloodwork) as well as reports from physical therapy.
In many disability claims, it may also include the results of a report issued by an independent physician who examines you at the request of the Social Security Administration.
Qualifying for SSD or SSI benefits will also depend on the information obtained from your vocational, or work, history if you are an adult, or academic records if you are a minor-age child. In the case of adults, your work history information will allow a disability examiner (examiners make decisions at the initial claim and reconsideration appeal levels, but not at the hearing level where a judges decides the outcome of the case) to A) classify your past work, B) determine the physical and mental demands of your past work, C) decide if you can go back to a past job, and D) whether or not you have the ability to switch to some type of other work.
The important thing to keep in mind is that the social security administration does not award benefits based on simply having a condition, but, instead, will base an approval or denial on the extent to which a condition causes functional limitations. Functional limitations can be great enough to make work activity not possible (or, for a child, make it impossible to engage in age-appropriate activities).
Why are so many disability cases lost at the disability application and reconsideration appeal levels?
There are several reasons but here are just two:
1) Social Security makes no attempt to obtain a statement from a claimant's treating physician. By contrast, at the hearing level, a claimant's disability attorney or disability representative will generally obtain and present this type of statement to a judge.
Note: it is not enough for a doctor to simply state that their patient is disabled. To satisy Social Security's requirements, the physician must list in what ways and to what extent the individual is functionally limited. For this reason, many representatives and attorneys request that the physician fill out and sign a specialized medical source statement that captures the correct information. Solid Supporting statements from physicians easily make the difference between winning or losing a disability case at the hearing level.
2) Prior to the hearing level, a claimant will not have the opportunity to explain how their condition limits them, nor will their attorney or representative have the opportunity to make a presentation based on the evidence of the case. This is because at the initial levels of the disability system, a disability examiner decides the case without meeting the claimant. The examiner may contact the claimant to gather information on activities of daily living and with regard to medical treatment or past jobs, but usually nothing more. At the hearing level, however, presenting an argument for approval based on medical evidence that has been obtained and submitted is exactly what happens.
About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.
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