Can I Get Social Security Disability for Hemochromatosis?

Those with severe symptoms or organ damage caused by hemochromatosis may be eligible for disability benefits.

By , J.D., The Colleges of Law

Hemochromatosis (hee-mow-crow-muh-TOE-sis) is a disorder that causes your body to absorb too much iron, sometimes called "iron overload". Hemochromatosis can be primary or secondary. Primary hemochromatosis is hereditary, and is the result of a gene mutation that causes the body to absorb too much iron through the digestive system. Secondary hemochromatosis isn't inherited, but acquired after birth, typically from receiving multiple blood transfusions to manage conditions like anemia or liver disease.

If symptoms from hemochromatosis have left you unable to work for at least 12 months, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Symptoms and Damage Caused by Hemochromatosis

Many people with hemochromatosis are able to control their condition successfully and can complete their daily routines without interference from their symptoms. But others might have more severe symptoms that limit what they can do, such as:

  • joint pain
  • fatigue and lack of energy
  • weakness
  • abdominal pain
  • loss of hair, and
  • weight loss.

As the disorder progresses, hemochromatosis can begin to affect your organs. The damage to your organs can lead to other impairments, including:

Hemochromatosis can be difficult to diagnose due to its generic symptoms in its early stages. For this reason, many people aren't diagnosed until there is already organ damage, which can be severe or life-threatening. Men tend to be diagnosed after the age of 40, while women are diagnosed after the age of 60.

How to Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits for Hemochromatosis

To qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you must first show that you meet the non-medical eligibility requirements for SSDI or SSI. SSDI is based on your work history, so you'll need to show that you have enough work credits to be fully insured under the program. SSI is a needs-based program with income and asset caps, so if you're applying for SSI, you'll need to show that you don't have more than a few thousand dollars in earnings and resources.

Once Social Security is satisfied that you might qualify for SSDI or SSI, you'll need to show that you have a severe impairment that keeps you from working full-time. You can do this in one of two ways:

  • meet or equal the requirements of a "listing," a description of an impairment that is in the Social Security "Blue Book," or
  • show that no jobs exist that you can do with your physical and mental limitations.

People with hemochromatosis can suffer from serious impairments due to the late diagnosis of their illness. This is because, over time, excess iron builds up in the heart, liver, and pancreas, causing damage. Very severe cases may qualify for disability automatically under a listed impairment for the body system or organ affected.

Meeting a Listing with Hemochromatosis

Social Security's "Blue Book" contains a list of medical conditions that the agency considers especially severe. Each "listed impairment" contains a set of criteria—typically specific test results—that need to be present in order for Social Security to determine that you're disabled automatically without having to determine that you can't do any jobs.

If your doctors have told you that your hemochromatosis has significantly damaged your organs, Social Security may evaluate your claim under the following listings:

The medical evidence that is required to get disability automatically varies by listing. If you think your hemochromatosis may meet the requirements of one of the above listings, consider asking your doctor for a medical source statement to that effect. Social Security values the opinions of doctors who've been treating you for a long time, especially if your condition is in their area of expertise.

Inability to Work Due to Hemochromatosis

People with hemochromatosis can have significant physical and mental challenges. Joint pain, muscle weakness, circulatory problems, and both mental and physical fatigue can all lead to work-related limitations. Even if you don't meet the requirements of a listing, you can still qualify for disability benefits if these limitations prevent you from working at any job.

Social Security determines whether you're able to work by looking at all your impairments and functional limitations in order to create your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC states what physical and mental tasks you can and can't do. Then the agency uses your RFC to determine if there are any jobs available that someone with your limitations could do.

After deciding your RFC, Social Security compares it with your past work to determine if you can still perform those same jobs. If you're unable to perform those jobs, Social Security will see if there are any other jobs available that you can do. Along with your RFC, the agency will consider your age, education, and work experience in deciding whether you can adjust to work that is less demanding than your last job.

The more restrictions you have in your RFC assessment, the fewer jobs you'll be able to do—which increases the odds that Social Security will find you disabled. For example, the agency will have a harder time finding jobs that can accommodate the unscheduled breaks a person with hemochromatosis may need to take in a workday. And having limitations in using your hands at work can also rule out even simple, sit-down jobs.

Filing for Disability Benefits for Hemochromatosis

Social Security makes it pretty simple to apply for benefits. You can file your application in one or four ways:

While you don't have to have a lawyer to file your initial application, you may want to consider hiring an experienced disability attorney. Most disability applications are denied at both the initial level and on reconsideration, and many claimants who are (understandably) frustrated abandon their claims before they get to the hearing level, where they statistically have the best chance of winning. Having a lawyer with you to help with your appeals and represent you at the hearing can save you a lot of time, frustration, and even money.

Updated October 16, 2023

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