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Social Disability Benefits For Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / Non-alcoholic Steatohepatitis
I have been diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease/non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. Can I receive Social Security Disability benefits (SSD), Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), or Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI)?
Being diagnosed of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is just the start. Your Social Security disability claim will typically focus on the symptoms you experience from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and how they affect your ability to do physical and mental work-related activities eight (8) hours per day, five (5) days per week.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the accumulation of fat in the liver (steatosis) caused by factors other than excessive alcohol consumption. In developed countries like the US, NAFLD is the most common liver disorder.
There are different types of NAFLD. One is simple fatty liver, where fat is deposited in the liver but does not cause inflammation or damage. This is the case for most people with NAFLD.
Another type is non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Here, the fat in the liver has caused inflammation and possible damage to liver cells. It can lead to other serious problems such as liver scarring (fibrosis), severe liver scarring and failure (cirrhosis), and liver cancer. About 20 percent of those with NAFLD have NASH.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a 5-step process in determining whether your condition has disabled you.
Step 1. Are you working?
The SSA first determines if you have Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). Each year, there is a specified minimum amount for your earnings to be considered SGA. In 2018, this minimum is $1,180 per month if you are not blind and $1,970 per month if you are blind.
If you are working and your earnings average more than the SGA limit, then you will not be found disabled. If you are not working, or your earnings are less than SGA, the process proceeds to Step 2 where your non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and any other physical or mental conditions are evaluated.
Step 2. Is your medical condition “severe”?
The SSA may consider you disabled if your medical condition significantly limits your ability to do basic work activities such as sitting; standing; walking; lifting; carrying; understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple instructions; making simple work-related decisions; responding appropriately to supervision, co-workers, and work stress; and dealing with changes in a routine work setting.
To be considered disabled, you must have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment (or a combination of impairments) that is severe and has lasted or is expected last one (1) year or end in death. A medical condition that is not that severe will not meet the requirements for Social Security disability benefits. But if your condition is that severe, you may proceed to Step 3.
Step 3. Does your medical condition meet or equal the severity of a Listing?
The SSA maintains a list of medical criteria that are considered to be so severe that you will be found disabled if your physical or mental impairment(s) matches them.The Adult Listing for non-alcoholic liver disease or steatohepatitis can be found here.
If your impairment does not meet or equal any of the listings, or if the duration requirement is not met, the SSA will look instead at what you’re still able to do despite your impairment. This is your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC).
The RFC involves a function-by-function assessment of your maximum ability to perform sustained, regular, and continuing work (8 hours a day, 5 days a week) despite the restrictions from your medical impairments. When the SSA evaluates your RFC, you will proceed to Step 4.
Step 4. Can you do any of the jobs you have performed in the past fifteen (15) years?
Here, the SSA determines if your medical condition prevents you from doing your Past Relevant Work (PRW). Your PRW is the full-time work you’ve done in the last fifteen (15) years that was a substantial gainful activity and that was something you performed enough to learn the job.
If the SSA decides you can perform any of your PRW, they will not consider you disabled. But if it sees that you can no longer do your PRW, or that you could not work in the last fifteen (15) years, your process will go on to Step 5.
Still here at Step 4, you have the “burden of proof”, which means you are required to present evidence. Two of the best types of evidence you can present are medical records and the opinions of the doctors treating you.
In terms of medical evidence, the strongest type is known as objective medical evidence. This is the type of proof that does not rely on what you tell your doctors – it is based on independent, objective tests and the like. Meanwhile, in terms of medical opinions, the most reliable opinions are those from doctors who are specialists in your condition, and are backed by objective medical evidence.
Some of the objective medical evidence that can support a disability claim for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease include:
- Imaging such as, but not limited to, x-ray, sonography, CAT scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and radionuclide scans
- Laboratory findings such as, but not limited to, increased liver enzymes, increased serum total bilirubin, increased ammonia levels, decreased serum albumin, and abnormal coagulation studies, such as increased International Normalized Ratio (INR) or decreased platelet counts.
Doctors who specialize in treating non-alcoholic steatohepatitis include:
- Gastroenterologists – specialists on digestive organs and the liver
- Hepatologists – specialists focused on the liver
- Hematologists – specialists on the blood.
Remember that if you consult only with your family doctor or primary care doctor for your non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, the SSA could see this as a sign that your condition is not that serious (otherwise, you would be seeing a specialist). If you need help locating sources of treatment, even if you don’t have health insurance, an experienced Social Security disability lawyer should be able to assist you.
Step 5. Can you do any other type of work?
Here at Step 5, the burden of proof is on the SSA. If you can no longer do your past relevant work, the SSA will check if you would be able to do other work. The review your medical condition, your age,education, past work experience, and any skills you may have that could be used to do other work. If you are able to do other work, the SSA will conclude that you are not disabled. But if you cannot do other work, the SSA will consider you disabled.
People who are older than 50 may have special rules for their case that can result in a disability finding even if they can do other work. To ensure that these rules are considered in the evaluation of your case,get in touch with an experienced and knowledgeable Social Security disability lawyer.
A liver disease, especially non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, can be utterly debilitating, and you may truly deserve assistance. But as you can see, it can be very challenging to apply for Social Security disability benefits. In fact, about two-thirds of all initial claims end up getting denied.
Contact Gillette Law Group
Whether you are applying for the first time or are appealing a denied application, we at Gillette Law Group can help you succeed. For many years, we have been effectively assisting disability applicants like you, enabling them to find great relief.
Please do not hesitate to talk to us, as your application may have a deadline. Your consultation with us is free, so call us today at (855) 873-2604.