Often, a client will ask me if they can get disability for a certain disease or disorder. Almost always, the answer is that Social Security will make an evaluation regarding the severity of the impairment to make the disability determination. Diabetes is a perfect example of this. While a diagnosis of diabetes is always concerning and should be monitored closely, some cases of diabetes may not have a major impact on someone’s ability to work light duty jobs.
On the other hand, diabetes can be a catastrophic problem which can lead to kidney failure, neuropathy, and blindness. I have had numerous clients who have had leg amputations due to diabetic complications while their Social Security cases were pending. Obviously, diabetes cases can vary greatly in severity; learn more about diabetes here.
The Severity of Your Diabetes Will Affect Your Disability Application
There isn’t a specific Social Security listing (medical criteria) for diabetes, so a judge considering a diabetes case will consider how the diabetes has affected your other body systems.
The judge reviewing your case isn’t just going to approve it because they see a diabetes diagnosis in your medical record, so it’s so important to have an experienced Social Security attorney on your side who can argue that your impairments are so severe that they make you unable to work. Here are a few examples:
- If someone is “legally blind,” meaning their visual impairment meets Social Security’s blindness listing (medical criteria), they should be approved. However, I have seen numerous cases in which someone’s visual impairment leaves them unable to work and otherwise makes life extremely difficult, but they do not meet the strict criteria to be considered “legally blind.” In that case, your attorney can develop your case to present evidence to the judge about the severity of the visual impairment and why it makes you unable to work.
- If someone is a “brittle diabetic,” dangerous fluctuations in blood sugar can lead to hospitalizations and symptoms which make someone unable to sustain regular work, rendering them disabled. However, judges are quick to suspect that a lack of compliance with a medication or insulin regimen resulted in the fluctuations, and could deny disability on this basis. Your attorney can help the judge understand how a case of brittle diabetes can interrupt someone’s schedule to the point they cannot work, even when that person is doing all they can to manage their diabetes.
- Someone who has had two below-the-knee leg amputations because of diabetes would likely expect to be easily approved for disability. However, under Social Security’s rules even someone like this isn’t automatically considered disabled. You need an attorney who understands what else needs to be shown and can persuade a judge to approve your case. I have surprisingly met resistance from judges in cases involving leg amputations. I even had to take on a case of an amputee who had been denied by a judge at a hearing (while represented by a different law firm) and appeal her case to federal court! Each time, I argued aggressively to get our client the benefits they deserved.
- The neuropathy (nerve damage) caused by diabetes can be debilitating. It can seriously limit someone’s ability to stand and walk and can cause an individual to need an assistive device like a cane, walker, or wheelchair to get around. It can also affect the hands to the point that someone cannot perform the hand activity that is required in essentially every job. Again, these would seem to be strong cases for disability, but could be denied without skillful representation from an attorney. The attorney could advise you on the kinds of tests a stubborn judge would need to see before accepting testimony about neuropathy. The judges also consult with vocational experts, who can often offer ridiculous testimony about thousands of jobs that can be done by someone who can hardly stand, walk, or use their hands. This warrants zealous cross-examination from an attorney.
Diabetic Neuropathy: What Is It?
According to MayoClinic, "Diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that can occur if you have diabetes. High blood sugar (glucose) can injure nerves throughout the body. Diabetic neuropathy most often damages nerves in the legs and feet."
If you have diabetes and notice numbness, tingling, pain, or weakness in your hands or feet, you should see your doctor. These are early symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. The danger is usually when you can’t feel pain and an ulcer develops on your foot.
In cases of severe or prolonged peripheral neuropathy, you may be vulnerable to injuries or infections. In serious cases, poor wound healing or infection can lead to amputation.
There are different types of diabetic neuropathy that affect different areas of your body, causing a variety of symptoms. If you have diabetes, it’s important to regularly check your blood glucose levels and contact your doctor if have any symptoms of neuropathy.
Symptoms of Diabetic Neuropathy
The symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include:
- numbness, pain, tingling, and burning sensations starting in the toes and fingers then continuing up the legs or arms
- loss of muscle tone in the hands and feet
- not being able to feel heat, cold, or physical injury
- loss of balance
- Charcot’s joint, in which a joint breaks down because of nerve issues, often in the feet
The effects of autonomic neuropathy include:
- heartburn and bloating
- nausea, constipation or diarrhea
- hypoglycemic unawareness, in which a person does not feel the effects of low sugar levels
- difficulties speaking or swallowing
- feeling full after eating small amounts of food
- vomiting several hours after eating
- orthostatic hypotension, or feeling light-headed and dizzy when standing up
- a faster heart rate than normal
Let Our Social Security Lawyers Handle Your Physical Disability Claim
I have been involved with diabetes for many years. Before I became a lawyer, I worked in the diabetes group of a major pharmaceutical company. Part of my training was to attend a daylong education session for people who had recently been diagnosed with diabetes so I could understand how difficult it is to monitor and treat the disease. Since then, I have represented many individuals with diabetes and studied their medical records to prepare for hearings. Even after all this, I am always saddened to see just how devastating the long-term effects of diabetes can be.
A diabetic can lose his sight, kidneys, and/or ability to walk. Based on my experience, I would strongly encourage anyone with diabetes to go to all lengths possible to manage blood sugars and attempt to avoid these devastating complications. Unfortunately, even the most diligent diabetic may end up with symptoms and limitations that make them unable to work.