Disability Benefits: Proving Your HIV/AIDS Prevents You From Working

If you want to get Social Security disability benefits, you will have to show that you are unable to work. Here's how.

There are two ways to get Social Security disability benefits (SSD or SSDI) for AIDs or HIV infection. Individuals with HIV/AIDS who do not meet the requirements of Social Security's impairment listing for HIV may qualify for Social Security disability benefits if their impairments are severe enough to prevent them from returning to work.

To assess your ability to return to work, Social Security does a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment on you, which will address your ability to function in three categories: physical, mental, and sensory. A claims examiner at Social Security will go through your medical record to find all of the symptoms and limitations that you have and will include them in the RFC.

Disabling Symptoms of HIV and AIDS

For those with HIV or AIDS, the illness itself, as well as the medications that are taken for the illness, cause many symptoms.

Symptoms of HIV Infection  

In the first two stages of HIV, the acute or primary infection and the clinical latent infection periods, there are few symptoms that would rise to the level of affecting your ability to work for any amount of time.

In the early symptomatic stage, fever, fatigue, weight loss, diarrhea, and shortness of breath are common. As the disease progresses, fatigue, weight loss, fever, diarrhea, and shortness of breath become more severe. Additional symptoms can include headaches, blurred or distorted vision, skin rashes, tingling, numbness or weakness in the limbs, pain when swallowing, pelvic inflammatory disease that reoccurs often, nerve damage that causes loss of movement, feeling or other functions in your limbs, confusion, difficulty concentrating, and changes in personality.

AIDS Symptoms

Once HIV develops into AIDS, many of the above symptoms are still present, but opportunistic infections also become more common. Opportunistic infections and diseases can include pneumonia, various types of cancer, and toxoplasmosis of the brain, which causes individuals to have stroke-like symptoms, such as memory problems and difficulty thinking.

Medication Side Effects

The medications that are generally prescribed to individuals with HIV or AIDS have side effects that can greatly affect an individual’s ability to function in the workplace. Symptoms from medication can be similar to those caused by the HIV/AIDS itself, and the medication can increase the symptoms that are already present.

Common side effects include hypersensitivity, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, anemia, numbness, tingling, and burning sensations, dizziness, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, headaches, depression, anxiety, general weakness, and joint pain. Some individuals may also suffer from more severe side effects, including a build up of acid, sugar, or fat in their blood, or liver damage.

Limitations Caused by HIV and AIDS

Individuals vary in their symptoms (and women often have different limitations from AIDs than men), but here are some common limitations that you might see in the RFC of someone with AIDs.

Physical Limitations

Your physical RFC will consider the affects of any physical ailments that may prevent you from returning to work.  For those with HIV/AIDS, fatigue is one of the most prominent physical impairments. Fever, diarrhea, weight loss, and difficulty eating due to painful swallowing can all increase fatigue that is already present. Fatigue can affect your ability to properly complete any physical task asked of you at a job.

Pain from headaches, reoccurring infections, or nerve damage and decreased or loss of use of a limb can also affect your ability to function physically. Breathing problems, including shortness of breath and pneumonia, are also common for those with HIV/AIDS and can limit your physical capabilities.  

Medication can also affect your physical ability to function normally if it causes more fatigue and weakness.  

Mental Limitations

If you have any mental symptoms, Social Security will develop a mental RFC for you as well. A mental RFC assesses your ability to complete tasks, taking into consideration your ability to understand, remember, and follow through with a task, and to get along with others.  

Lack of concentration is the most common of mental impairments caused by HIV and AIDS. Headaches, fatigue, insomnia, and confusion can all contribute to difficulty with concentrating and being able to complete tasks. Sometimes personality changes can affect individual’s ability to function with other individuals in their workplace.  

Medication can cause additional problems with depression and anxiety. These mental impairments can cause difficulty with interactions with others in the workplace, as well as difficulty in completing tasks.

Sensory Limitations

Social Security also evaluates whether you have any impairments to your five senses (feeling, hearing, seeing, smelling, and tasting) and any limitations your doctor has placed on you based on environment. For example, medication can often cause hypersensitivity, which can limit your ability to work outdoors or be exposed to the sun for any amount of time.

Individuals who have HIV/AIDS can suffer from vision that is blurred or distorted, which can limit all types of work, depending on the severity of the vision problem.

Your Residual Functional Capacity for HIV or AIDs

Social Security pulls together your symptoms and limitations into an RFC. Your RFC is then considered together with your job skills, age, and education to determine if you are able to return to any kind of work. For more information, see Residual Functional Capacity and Your Disability Claim.

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