Diabetes happens when the body doesn't produce enough insulin to process glucose. Diabetes can often be controlled with treatment—a combination of medication and diet—but sometimes diabetes can't be controlled, and then it can cause damage to internal organs and other problems.
If you have serious health problems due to uncontrolled diabetes that keep you from working, you may be eligible for disability benefits.
Symptoms of both diabetes type 1 and diabetes type 2 include frequent urination, unusual thirst and hunger, and fatigue. People with type 2 diabetes also can suffer from tingling or numbness in the hands and feet, frequent infections, and cuts that are slow to heal.
Hypoglycemia, an abnormally low level of blood glucose, can lead to complications including seizures, loss of consciousness, or cognitive problems.
Hyperglycemia, when your blood sugar stays too high, can cause diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). DKA is a potentially life-threatening condition caused by a severe insulin deficiency. It usually requires hospitalization, but the treatment for it may cause other complications, such as cardiac arrhythmias, intestinal necrosis, cerebral edema, or seizures.
Chronic hyperglycemia can also lead to:
If you have uncontrolled diabetes and your doctor doesn't think you'll be able to work for at least 12 months, you may be eligible for Social Security disability (SSDI/SSD) benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. But to qualify for disability benefits, the damage caused by your diabetes must severely limit what you can do, or you must have complications that fulfill the requirements of one of Social Security's disability listings.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a listing of impairments (the "Blue Book") that tells you how severe an illness must be to qualify for disability benefits. Unfortunately, diabetes is no longer included as a separate disability listing, so showing you've been diagnosed with diabetes won't automatically get you disability benefits.
But, if you have complications arising from your diabetes that fall under another disability listing, you might get approved for benefits. Following are some listings that people with complications from diabetes (hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia) often suffer from:
Because Social Security's disability listings require that these complications be quite severe to qualify for disability, Social Security finds that most people who apply for disability due to diabetes do not meet a listing. The agency then goes on to do an RFC analysis (see below) to see if the applicant can do any type of work.
If you don't meet the requirements of a listing, the SSA will assess your residual functional capacity (RFC), to understand how much your functioning is limited. Your RFC is a measurement of the level of activity that you can do despite your illness; an RFC can be for medium work, light work, or sedentary work. To determine your RFC, the SSA will review:
Physical limitations. The SSA will look for information that shows how well you can use your arms and hands, stand, and walk. For instance, you might have peripheral diabetic nerve pain in your in feet or hands that disrupts your ability to stand, walk, or use your hands. Or maybe you have peripheral sensory neuropathy that limits the sensation in your legs or feet, making it difficult to walk without a cane or to use foot controls. In either case, your RFC might say that you're unable to stand and walk for long periods of time.
Cognitive, emotional, and sensory limitations. The SSA is also interested in whether you can focus on tasks, get along with others, and come to work on a regular basis. If you have poor control over your glucose levels during the day, the SSA might agree that you're unable to concentrate for long periods of time. If you suffer from depression or extreme fatigue, your RFC might state that you're unable to perform work on a consistent and regular basis. If you have blurred vision, your RFC should say that you can't perform jobs in which vision is important.
Analyzing your RFC. The SSA will then look to see whether your RFC is limiting enough that, given your age, the jobs you have held in the past, and your education level, you can't be expected to work. For example, if your visual acuity is 20/70 or worse, your RFC might note that you can't drive or work around hazardous machinery. If your prior jobs all required driving or working around hazardous machinery, and you have little education or skills you could transfer to another job, it's possible that the SSA might find that there is no work you could be expected to do. However, this is likely only if you are 55 or older. If you are younger, the SSA will say there are plenty of unskilled jobs you could learn to do that don't require driving or working around hazardous machinery.
Learn more about your residual functional capacity and when it is limiting enough to get you disability benefits.
Combining multiple impairments. If you have diabetes and another medical condition, such as depression or obesity, Social Security must consider the combined effects of your impairments when considering if your condition is equal to a listing and when doing your RFC analysis. For more information, see our article on combining multiple impairments for disability.
An easy way to apply for Social Security disability benefits is to file your claim online at www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability. You can also file a claim over the phone by contacting Social Security at 800-772-1213, but be prepared for long wait times. For more information, please see our article about applying for Social Security disability benefits.
Updated December 9, 2021