In 2017, Social Security added a listing for eating disorders. Listings contain medical criteria which, if met, indicate that someone should be considered disabled. The eating disorders Social Security will evaluate include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, and avoidant/restrictive food disorder. Signs and symptoms of these eating disorders include restricted consumption of food, binge eating episodes, self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, misuse of laxatives, mood disturbances, social withdrawal, the absence of menstruation, dental problems, and cardiac abnormalities.
Once someone has established that they have an eating disorder, Social Security will evaluate the disorder much like other mental impairments – Social Security will consider the disorder’s impact on someone’s ability to follow instructions, interact with others, maintain a work-like pace, and manage activities of daily living. Generally, Social Security judges will always also be thinking about whether an impairment prevents a claimant from working on a full-time basis.
Does Your Eating Disorder Prevent You from Working?
If you have an eating disorder that is so severe that it is interrupting your ability to work, the first thing to do is to get treatment if you haven’t already. The best reason to do so is that a mental health professional may be able to help you overcome or manage the eating disorder. If, despite treatment, you are unable to manage the disorder so that you are capable of working, you can consider disability. There is an eating disorders helpline available.
Even with a disruptive eating disorder that you have not been unable to overcome, you still may be met with a skeptical judge when seeking disability benefits. Eating disorders aren’t rare. In fact, eating disorders affect 9% of the population.
Nonetheless, cases in which someone seeks disability for an eating disorder are rare. In fact, it’s likely that even an experienced Social Security judge may not have encountered one. In such a case, you need an experienced Social Security attorney on your side who can help the judge understand why your eating disorder makes you unable to work and renders you disabled.
How Our Social Security Attorneys Prepare Your Benefits Claim
The average Social Security attorney may think that the best thing they can for your case is to take you in front of the judge and make an impassioned speech about your eating disorder and its effects on you, which they expect will win over the judge with their charm, charisma, and persuasiveness, causing your case to be approved. In reality, it doesn’t work like this. Social Security judges handle hundreds of cases every year and every single time they hear a story about why someone needs disability benefits. But they don’t approve every case. In fact, less than half of cases are approved at the hearing level.
Keller & Keller’s Social Security attorneys know what it takes to get your case approved. They understand that while your hearing is important, they need to do their homework to separate your case from the others that will end up denied. Judges know that every attorney is going argue that their clients are disabled. That’s why they are often more interested in hearing what medical professionals have to say about someone who is seeking Social Security. The Keller & Keller team will work to obtain medical documentation showing the extent of your symptoms and treatment, and can seek opinions from your doctors about how they would expected your disorder to limit your ability to work.
Keller & Keller attorneys understand the importance of first impressions. In a Social Security case, the judge’s first impression of your case is not going to come from listening to your attorney’s opening statement or hearing your testimony about how your disorder has impacted you. The first impression is going to come from reviewing the documentation which has been submitted to support your claim. Judges should do this before every hearing.
Eating Disorders Can Lead to Other Disabilites That Can Strengthen Your Claim
In a case involving an eating disorder, it’s very likely that someone will also suffer from related physical or mental impairments. Limited caloric consumption could result in physical limitations that should also be considered relevant to a claim. Eating disorders may also be accompanied by other mental disorders which should be evaluated, as well.
Eating disorders frequently affect younger individuals. You may have heard that it is harder for younger people to obtain disability benefits, compared with older workers. While this is true, Social Security benefits should be available to eligible individuals who become unable to work, even if they are relatively young. A skilled attorney can present your case in a way that helps the judge understand why, even at a young age, an eating disorder can make someone disabled.
For example, a separate listing applies to “weight loss due to any digestive disorder.” It provides that someone with a body mass index (BMI) consistently under 17.5 should be considered disabled. (A body mass index is calculated based on a person’s height and weight. By way of example, someone who is 5 feet and five inches, weighing 105 pounds, would have a BMI of 17.5.) While eating disorders are considered mental disorders (as opposed to digestive disorders) a skilled attorney could argue that someone with an eating disorder and a BMI below 17.5 should equal this listing, which is another finding a judge could make that would result in a disability case being approved. At the very least, a low BMI like this is a strong indicator that someone with an eating disorder should be approved for benefits.
Continuing Treatment After Getting Approved is Critical
If someone with an eating disorder is approved for disability benefits, it is very important that this person continue with treatment. It may eventually be successful and enable someone to put an eating disorder behind them. In that situation, the person could return to work and earn more than the amount of a monthly disability benefit. Also, if a judge approves a person with an eating disorder, the judge is very likely to recommend a continuing disability review, meaning Social Security would re-evaluate the person’s disabled status in two-three years. At this point, if someone is not engaged in treatment for the eating disorder, Social Security may assume it is no longer a problem, even if it continues to make the person unable to work. Social Security could then cease the disability benefits.
Let Our Social Security Attorneys Help With Your Claim
If you have an eating disorder, reach out for help. Call mental health professionals first. If, after treatment, you are unable to work because of the eating disorders, contact the attorneys at Keller & Keller.