Facts about Sickle Cell Anemia 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. Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough red blood cells. Sickle cell anemia is a type of anemia that causes red blood cells ' normally round in shape, and have a slick and flexible consistency ' to be shaped like crescent moons (sickles) and have a sticky, rigid consistency that slows blood flow and oxygen.
2. Sickle cell anemia typically first shows signs in infancy, after 4 months of age. Swelling of the hands and feet is often the first symptom. Delayed growth is also common.
3. Sickle cell causes red blood cells to die after 10 to 20 days, rather than 120 days like normal red blood cells do. This leads to the same symptoms characteristic of anemia, such as fatigue.
4. Another symptom of sickle cell anemia is pain, which occurs as episodes termed crises. The pain from sickle cell anemia is caused by the odd-shaped blood vessels traveling through the body's tiny blood vessels. The degree of pain and the length of crises varies, and occurs in the chest, abdomen, joints and sometimes bones.
5. Jaundice is a sign of liver problems, and causes the skin and whites of the eyes to become yellow-colored. Jaundice can occur with sickle cell anemia when the liver is overwhelmed by the rapid death of red blood cells.
6. Those with sickle cell anemia are also prone to infections, due to spleen damage. They may also have vision problems if the blood vessels around the eyes become blocked.
7. Sickle cell anemia is inherited as a recessive trait, meaning both the mother and the father must carry the defective gene in order for their child to develop the condition.
8. A sickle cell carrier who does not have sickle cell anemia has one normal gene and one defective gene. Some of their blood cells may be sickle cells but typically do not cause symptoms.
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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