Disability and Chronic Liver Disease - Social Security Benefits

Your liver disease has to be fairly severe to qualify you for Social Security disability benefits.

By , Attorney

Chronic liver disease is actually a category of diseases rather than a disease itself. Chronic liver diseases include cirrhosis, hepatitis C and B, sarcoidosis, autoimmune hepatitis, liver failure, alcoholic liver disease, liver cancer, hepatoma, and other liver diseases. Chronic liver disease can result from alcohol and drug abuse, environmental toxins, viruses like hepatitis C, autoimmune disorders, and hereditary factors. Symptoms of chronic liver disease include jaundice, abdominal swelling, fatigue, diarrhea, and mental disorientation.

Can I Get Disability Benefits for Liver Disease?

If you are earning less than about $1,500 per month, and the disability caused by your liver damage has lasted, or is expected to last, at least 12 consecutive months, Social Security will consider whether your medical condition will be considered a disability.

The SSA will first look to see if your liver damage meets one of its disability listings in its Listing of Impairments (also called the "Blue Book"). Listing 5.05 covers all chronic liver diseases.

Liver Disease Listing

To meet the requirements of the chronic liver disease listing, your doctor must have diagnosed you with either end-stage liver disease or chronic liver disease (having lasted at least six months) with one of the following complications:

  • excess fluid in the peritoneal cavity (called ascites) or the pleural cavity (called hydrothorax)
  • spontaneous bacterial peritonitis
  • esophageal or gastrointestinal hemorrhage
  • hepatorenal syndrome
  • hepatopulmonary syndrome
  • hepatic encephalopathy, or
  • end-stage liver disease with SSA CLD scores of 22 or greater.

The details of the listing are actually quite complicated. If you're unsure if you've had one of the above complications, ask your doctor to look at the listing with you.

If you don't meet the requirements of the listing, the SSA will not automatically approve you for disability benefits, but the agency will look to see whether your liver disease has caused you functional limitations that prevent you from working (see below).

Liver Transplant Listing

Social Security has a separate listing for those who have undergone a liver transplant for any reason. To qualify under this listing, you simply must have had a liver transplant, and Social Security will consider you to be disabled for one year after the operation.

Functional Limitations of Liver Disease

The SSA will assess your "residual functional capacity" (RFC) to see whether there is any type of work you can still do given your functional limitations. For example, if you suffer from fatigue and need periods of rest, your RFC should state this. Or if your pain prevents you from walking, lifting, or carrying for more than a certain amount of time, your RFC should include this. Depending on your physical limitations, your RFC will have a sedentary, light, or medium work rating. Your RFC should also state any mental limitations caused by your disease, such as an inability to focus or remember things. Your doctor should include these limitations in your medical report so that the SSA includes them in your RFC.

How Your RFC Affects the Disability Determination

If the SSA finds you should still be able to do your prior job despite the limitations in your RFC, you will be denied disability benefits. However, if the SSA decides you are unable to do your past work, the SSA will decide if there is other work you can do. To make this determination, the SSA will consider your RFC rating and restrictions along with your age, job skills, and education level.

Learn more about how your RFC affects your disability claim.

Updated January 4, 2023

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