Facts about Morbid Obesity 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) Obesity and morbid obesity are medical conditions in which body fat is high on the individual, resulting in more strain on the body and oftentimes poor health. Both obesity and morbid obesity are determined using body mass index (BMI), which is calculated by dividing a person's weight by the square of their height.
2) In the United States, a body mass index of 40 or higher is considered morbid obesity. Usually, morbid obesity is roughly about 100 lbs. overweight.
3) For instance, a person who is five-feet and five-inches and weighs 245 lbs. has a BMI of 40.8 is therefore considered morbidly obese.
4) There are many simple online calculators to determine one's BMI. One can be found here at the U.S. Department of Health of Human Services: https://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/ Simply type in your height in feet and inches and then plug in your weight to get your current BMI number.
5) People who are morbidly obese are more likely to have high levels of triglycerides, bad cholesterol, high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. They are also more likely to have type 2 diabetes.
6) Those who are morbidly obese have higher (anywhere from 50 percent to 100 percent) mortality rates than those with healthy weights.
7) The causes of morbid obesity can be genetic, due to hormonal imbalances or due to metabolic disorders. In addition, morbid obesity can be caused by eating unhealthy foods in large portions and not implementing a daily exercise regimen.
8) When diet, exercise, behavior modifications, and traditional pharmaceuticals do not work for reducing one's weight, the U.S. National Institutes of Health recommends a form of bariatric surgery as an option. Not only can bariatric surgery help reduce weight significantly for long-term, but it can also help reduce mortality, improve cardiovascular risks, and help patients recover from diabetes.
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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