Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the HBV virus. Similarly, hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the HCV virus. While infections of hepatitis B or C are common, repeated infections can over time cause the liver to swell and scar (a condition known as cirrhosis). In advanced cases, hepatitis infections can lead to the development of liver cancer or liver failure.
If you've been diagnosed with hepatitis B or C that's caused serious complications, you might qualify for Social Security disability benefits (SSDI or SSI). People with severe liver damage could receive benefits automatically under the agency's Blue Book listing for chronic liver disease, while people with less severe conditions can get benefits if they're able to show that symptoms from hepatitis B or C prevent them from working full-time.
Many people with Hepatitis B don't experience any symptoms and might not even know that they've contracted the virus. Acute (short-term) hepatitis B infections can go away on their own, but chronic (recurring) hepatitis B infections can put the liver at risk of permanent damage. If symptoms from hepatitis B significantly limit your daily activities, you could qualify for disability.
Common hepatitis B symptoms include:
Chronic hepatitis B infections are usually treated with antiviral drugs or interferon, a protein that's a part of your body's natural immune defenses. When left untreated, however, hepatitis B can develop into cirrhosis and cause liver failure.
While hepatitis B isn't one of the listed impairments that the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers serious enough to be automatically disabling, complications from hepatitis B can be evaluated under related listings for liver disorders. Listings that the SSA might consider include:
Note that you'll need to have pretty severe chronic hepatitis B infections in order for the SSA to award you disability benefits this way. You'll have a lot more success qualifying for disability benefits if you can show that you have one or more conditions that are comorbid (occurring at the same time) with hepatitis B.
Social Security is required to take into consideration all of your combined impairments when determining whether you're disabled, so make sure to let the agency know about every condition you're getting medical treatment for on your application for benefits. (See our discussion below on how to show you can't work hepatitis B or C.)
Unlike hepatitis B, hepatitis C doesn't have a vaccine, and is more likely to develop into a chronic condition requiring intensive treatment. People with hepatitis C are also at a higher risk of developing liver cancer or needing a liver transplant. If your medical records contain evidence of such a large loss of liver function, the SSA is likely to find you disabled.
The symptoms of hepatitis C are almost identical to those of hepatitis B because the viruses causing the infections are very similar. Just like with hepatitis B, people with hepatitis C may be asymptomatic and not even know they have an infection. But chronic hepatitis C can require higher doses of interferon or antivirals to treat properly, which can cause significant side effects.
Side effects for hepatitis C treatment includes:
While interferon isn't used as much anymore to treat hepatitis C—many doctors prefer antiretroviral medicines that work faster and have fewer side effects—people with severe hepatitis C may have spent up to twelve months unable to work due to interferon therapy, and therefore could qualify for disability benefits.
The SSA will review applications ("claims") for disability benefits due to hepatitis C under the same listings the agency evaluates claims for hepatitis B. Listing 5.05 for chronic liver disease requires that you have lab results below specific levels of blood protein or oxygenation showing greatly reduced liver function. Lab tests that the SSA looks for include:
If you've received a liver transplant, Social Security will find you disabled automatically for one year under listing 5.09. And if you have liver cancer (listing 13.19), you can qualify for expedited processing of your disability claim under the agency's Compassionate Allowances program.
Very few disability applicants ("claimants") will have liver function poor enough to meet the strict requirements of a listing. But you can still qualify for disability benefits if symptoms or complications from hepatitis B or C prevent you from working full-time.
Social Security will look at any functional limitations caused by symptoms and treatment of your hepatitis B or C to determine your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC is a set of restrictions on what you can and can't do in a work environment. Hepatitis symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, and joint aches can make it a struggle to sit, stand, or walk at work, and medication side effects can cause difficulties in focusing long enough to complete job duties.
Social Security will then review your work history to see whether you could do any of your past jobs with your current RFC. For claimants older than 50—80% of Americans with hepatitis C were born between 1945 and 1965, according to Yale Medicine—being unable to perform your past work could qualify you for disability benefits under the medical-vocational grid rules.
For claimants who aren't disabled under the grid rules (or are under the age of 50), the agency needs to see whether any other jobs exist that they can do. Even the easiest jobs still require you to show up on time and complete job tasks, so if you're taking too many breaks due to pain, it's unlikely that any employer will hire you. If the restrictions in your RFC rule out all jobs, the SSA will award you benefits.
Updated January 9, 2023