Getting Social Security Disability Benefits for Aplastic Anemia or Other Bone Marrow Diseases

There are several ways to qualify for Social Security disability for aplastic anemia, myelodysplastic syndromes, granulocytopenia, and myelofibrosis.

Aplastic anemia is a hematological (blood) disorder in which the bone marrow fails to make enough blood cells. Other bone marrow failure diseases include myelodysplastic syndromes, granulocytopenia, and myelofibrosis.

Individuals with aplastic anemia may suffer from low red blood cell count, low white blood cell count, and low platelet count. Symptoms include frequent infections, fatigue, weakness, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, easy bruising, bleeding gums, and nosebleeds. Some known causes of aplastic anemia are exposure to certain drugs or chemicals, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. In many cases, the cause is unknown, and the disorder is referred to as "idiopathic aplastic anemia." Treatment for severe cases of aplastic anemia can involve medications, bone marrow transplants, or stem cell transplants.

If you have severe aplastic anemia, a myelodysplastic syndrome, granulocytopenia, or myelofibrosis, you may qualify for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or SSI. However, not everyone who has a bone marrow disorder will qualify for disability. Whether you qualify depends on the severity of your condition and your age.

Adult Disability Listings for Bone Marrow Failure Disorders

Whether adults can qualify financially for SSI or SSDI depends on their work history and income and asset level. (SSI is for low-income people with disabilities; SSDI is for people with a work history who paid into Social Security.) But Social Security has the same medical disability standard for aplastic anemia and bone marrow disorders for both SSI and SSDI.

Social Security's blood-related listings were updated in 2015. There are different standards depending on the date you applied.

Applications Filed After May 17, 2015

For applications filed after May 17, 2015, the following listings apply:

For a myelodysplastic syndrome or aplastic anemia, you can automatically qualify for disability benefits under listing 7.10 if you require life-long red blood cell (RBC) transfusions every six weeks, or more frequently.

For any bone marrow failure disorder, there are three listings you can qualify under:

  • under listing 7.10, you must have had complications of bone marrow failure requiring hospitalization at least three times within a one-year period. The hospitalizations must each have lasted 48 hours or more and occurred at least 30 days apart.
  • under listing 7.17, you must have had a bone marrow or stem cell transplant.
  • under listing 7.18, if you don't meet the listing 7.10 requirements because you have had fewer hospitalizations than required, but you have repeated complications, you can qualify. Complications that can qualify under this listing include emergency room visits, short hospitalizations, joint problems, pain, or severe fatigue. You must be able to prove that you also have a marked (severe) limitation in one of the following:
    • performing activities of daily living
    • maintaining social functioning, or
    • completing tasks in a timely manner because of problems with pace, persistence, or focus.

Applications Filed Before May 18, 2015

For applications filed prior to May 18, 2015, several listings apply:

Aplastic anemia. To qualify under a listing, an aplastic anemia patient who filed before May 18, 2018 must have had a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. Social Security considers those who have had a transplant to be disabled for one year after the operation.

Chronic granulocytopenia. To qualify under the listing for granulocytopenia, an applicant who filed before May 18, 2018 has to have absolute neutrophil counts repeatedly below 1,000 cells/cubic millimeter and systemic bacterial infections occurring at least three times in the prior five months.

Myelofibrosis. To qualify under the listing for myelofibrosis (myeloproliferative syndrome), an applicant who filed before May 18, 2018 has to have one of the following:

  • intractable bone pain with radiologic evidence of osteosclerosis, or
  • systemic bacterial infections occurring at least three times in the prior five months, or
  • a persistent hematocrit of 30% or less and at least one blood transfusion every two months, on average.

If You Don't Meet a Listing

Aplastic anemia, myelodysplastic syndromes, granulocytopenia, and myelofibrosis can cause other physical problems that might help you qualify for disability. In your application, be sure to tell Social Security about all of your symptoms. Even if you don't meet or equal a listing, you might still qualify for disability if you can't work because of the limitations imposed by your condition or because you must miss more than a few days per month for treatment, transfusions, or hospitalizations. For more information about how Social Security determines your ability to work, see our article on residual functional capacity.

Disability Listings for Children With Bone Marrow Disorders

Disabled children under 18 can qualify for SSI disability benefits if they and their parents have little income and few assets. Children are almost never are eligible for SSDI (except as dependents of a parent who collects retirement or disability checks) because they do not have the required work history. If your child meets the financial eligibility guidelines for SSI, then Social Security will consider whether his or her condition is disabling enough to qualify.

Meeting a Disability Listing

If your child applies for SSI on the basis of aplastic anemia, a myelodysplastic syndrome, granulocytopenia, or myelofibrosis, Social Security will look at her medical records, especially the results of blood tests and bone marrow biopsies. The updated listings for childhood bone marrow disorders have the same requirements as the new adult listings, laid out above.

For applications prior to May 18, 2015, a child with aplastic anemia could qualify for benefits with either:

  • a severely reduced red blood cell count despite prescribed therapy. This means a persistent hematocrit of 26% or less and reticulocyte (recently produced red blood cell) count of 4% or greater, or
  • purpura (bleeding under the skin) and thrombocytopenia (reduced platelet count) of 40,000 platelets/ or less despite prescribed treatment, or that re-occurs when treatment is stopped.

Medically or Functionally Equaling the Listings

If your child does not meet one of these disability listings, she can still qualify for SSI if you can show that her condition is medically equivalent to any of the listed conditions or that her condition very seriously interferes with her daily functioning. For more information, see our article about getting SSI for a child by functionally equaling the listings.

Compassionate Allowance

If you required a bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplant, then you may qualify for a "compassionate allowance." Social Security keeps a list of conditions that are so severe that they qualify a person for quicker processing of their application. Aplastic anemia with transplantation is on the Compassionate Allowances List (CAL). Adults and children who have received a stem cell or bone marrow transplant because of aplastic anemia or another blood disorder in the last year will qualify for a compassionate allowance.

There is not a special application for a compassionate allowance, but it can help if you note compassionate allowance somewhere on your disability application. If Social Security has all of the medical documentation from you that it needs to identify your case as a CAL case, then your application can be decided in a matter of weeks, instead of the months or years it can take to decide a non-CAL application.

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