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Is Lupus a Disability?

Lupus impairs blood clotting, leading to bruising from even a minor bump.
Symptoms of lupus may include joint pain.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2014
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Lupus can be disabling, though some people have long periods of remission where they are scarcely affected by this autoimmune disease. The question of whether this condition is a disability, from a standpoint of attempting to collect disability or supplemental security income (SSI) in the US, is slightly more complex. Lupus isn’t listed as a standard disability, but given certain factors, it can be considered one. People applying for any form of disability benefits should understand the factors that make lupus a disability and what conditions make it most likely a claim will be approved.

What might make lupus a disability that is eligible for benefits can come down to two separate definitions. It may be considered disabling if serious impairment exists of joints, muscles, eyes, respiratory system, cardiac system, gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, blood function, skin, and cognitive or psychiatric function. Alternately, review boards for disability or SSI benefits may consider lupus a disability if two or more of these systems are moderately impaired or if other conditions like chronic fever and weight loss occur.

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Another way that is possible to judge lupus a disability is by considering the current health of the individual and other factors like age. A child with moderate to severe lupus is likely to be awarded SSI benefits if parents qualify by income. Anyone who has been ill for up to a year, or who doctors judge will be ill for at least twelve months may also qualify, especially if they’ve been unable to work at the jobs they formerly held.

The main reason that the government doesn’t simply name lupus a disability is because of the variance in degree of illness. Some people are very ill with this disease and others have more mild symptoms. Additionally, lupus can be subject to flares, where people are very ill at times, but feel well and capable at other times.

For the lupus sufferer, these flares make it challenging to hold down traditional jobs, and some people with this illness work for supportive employers, taking advantage of things like the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), if flares occur. Still, employees are expected to show up at work most of the time, and if lupus seriously worsens, working may not be possible. Some people find ways to stay employed by starting home businesses or working as independent contractors, but these lack the benefits of traditional work, mainly health insurance, and health insurance is hard to obtain with a lupus diagnosis.

What is really needed to have the government consider lupus a disability is proof that it is disabling. Doctors need to document this thoroughly for patients attempting to get financial assistance or even access to things like share-of-cost Medicaid. People will ordinarily have to prove ways the condition renders things like work impossible, and they may need to submit to exams by state physicians, in addition to filling out paperwork and supplying medical records.

There continues to be a history of automatically denying disability claims, and this may be more common with a disease that is not always classed as a disability. Should people receive a denial, they should persist and file an appeal. Appeals often lead to approval of claims, though it’s certainly recognized this form of self-advocacy may be very difficult to perform if people are severely affected by a disability. There are disability lawyers and advocates who may help speed this process, though their services can be expensive.

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