Can You Get Social Security Disability for Sickle Cell Anemia?

Getting Social Security benefits for Sickle Cell AnemiaMost people’s red blood cells are shaped like a circle. Red blood cells carry the oxygen our cells need to burn to create movement. Without oxygen, affected tissue dies. But, what would happen to a person, who through hereditary, has red blood cells shaped like boomerangs or sickles?

Unlike circles, red blood cells shaped like sickles can’t just move cleanly among themselves. At junctures (primarily around joints), where the blood vessel narrows to go around “corners,” sometimes, these blood cells “catch” on each other, their edges becoming entangled to other edges. In the times this entangling continues, it creates a clot and that clot stops a joint, a finger, an arm, a lower leg from receiving the oxygen it requires. This causes excruciating pain.

That’s sickle cell anemia. The anemia (low oxygen within the red blood cell) is caused by the inefficiency of the sickle-shaped cell in carrying oxygen and the difficulty the body has replicating the cells.

Sicle Cell Anemia Can Cause Debilitating Side Effects

A disorder causing terrible pain, suddenly and without warning, often requiring hospitalization to relieve the clot to save the limb or just to treat the pain. Imagine showing up at a hospital, complaining of pain in a joint that does not reveal any medical problem on X-ray. Imagine what the doctors think of people who show up in ER’s complaining of pain with no cause and demanding strong pain killers. That is the burden of the folks with sickle cell. Receiving treatment, which has improved in recent years, is a game of convincing ER doctors that you are not an addict trying to scam morphine and, “by the way, doctor, if this clot you do not believe exists continues, I might lost the ability to use my leg/arm/hand/fingers.”

Now imagine that due to those sudden and predictable events that doctors call “Sickle Cell Crisis,” your ability to work is compromised. Most jobs prefer it when their employees actually come to work. When a medical condition keeps a person from working that person can be found disabled by the Social Security Administration. SSA’s rules on Sickle Cell can be found here. Basically, to be found automatically disabled by Social Security due to Sickle Cell, a person has to have:

  1. Six crises in a twelve-month period,
  2. Three or more times per year having to enter the hospital due to the complications of clotting for two plus days,
  3. Anemia (low red blood carrying cells) with Hemoglobin levels below seven (an almost impossibly low number that would barely allow the sufferer to be conscious), or,
  4. Such chronic anemia that the person has to undergo a red blood cell transplant every six weeks.

To be clear, these are absurd levels of suffering to qualify for disability. Part of the reason the rules are so hard to meet is because advances in medicine have made sickle cell much less disabling. Anti-clotting medications (which, ironically, exacerbate the anemia part) decrease the number of crises. Doctors’ ability to treat anemia have improved over the last few decades, meaning people with even moderate and severe disease can maintain employment.

If You're Unable to Work, Our Social Security Attorneys Can Help

But, what if you cannot? Maybe you only had four crises in a twelve month period and really terrible anemia with hemoglobin levels around eight or nine. Well, you are in luck as far your disability case is concerned! The Social Security attorneys at Keller & Keller can present a case to a Social Security Judge showing that you cannot sustain a full-time employment. I have personally done it many times. Being unable to maintain a work schedule means you are disabled. Records from your doctors and their opinions and your credible testimony can convince SSA to pay a case like this. We do this every day.

The other good news is that doctors think they now have the technology to “cure” sickle cell. The same technology that makes the COVID-19 vaccine work so well is under development to be used to “train” the body to produce red blood cells shaped more like circles than boomerangs. However, before that happens, if Sickle Cell Anemia is keeping you from working, call Keller & Keller. We can help.

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