Disability Benefits for Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) or Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI)

It's difficult to qualify for disability due to deep vein thrombosis, unless it has led to chronic venous insufficiency (CVI).

By , J.D. · University of Baltimore School of Law
Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney · Seattle University School of Law

Deep vein thrombosis (or venous thromboembolism) is a common but serious medical condition that can cause life-threatening complications. One potential complication, chronic venous insufficiency, is a listed impairment in Social Security's "Blue Book" of disorders that may qualify as automatically disabling.

What Is Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT?)

Deep vein thrombosis occurs when a blood clot develops in the veins, restricting blood flow in the affected area—usually the thighs or lower legs—and causing painful redness and swelling. There's a chance that the blood clot can break loose and become stuck in various parts of the body, including the brain, lungs, and heart. Blood clots that block flow in the lungs are called pulmonary embolisms.

Doctors diagnose DVT by looking at X-rays and ultrasounds, running blood tests, and measuring blood flow through the legs. Factors that can put people at an increased risk for DVT include:

  • smoking
  • being on bed rest
  • having undergone recent surgery
  • obesity
  • having recently given birth or being on birth control pills, and
  • using a catheter placed through the groin.

Treatment for DVT usually involves prescribing blood thinners ("anticoagulants" or "thrombolytics"), vein filters, and compression stockings. More serious cases of DVT can require surgery.

Can I Get Disability for DVT?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) awards disability benefits to people who aren't able to work at the substantial gainful activity level for at least 12 months because of a medically determinable severe impairment. You'll also need to meet the financial eligibility requirements for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Because uncomplicated DVT symptoms are usually resolved effectively with treatment, it can be difficult to qualify for disability based on DVT alone. But if you have a heart disorder or other medical condition that also causes functional limitations, Social Security will consider how your impairments combined affect your ability to work.

Deep Vein Thrombosis and Your Residual Functional Capacity

The process by which Social Security decides whether you can work is called assessing your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC is a set of limitations describing what activities you're still able to do at work and what you should avoid. The SSA reviews your medical records and your daily routine to determine your RFC.

For example, DVT can cause significant pain in your affected leg, making it difficult for you to walk, climb, crawl, or stoop. Your RFC would contain restrictions on performing jobs that involve using ladders or being on your feet all day. Or, because sitting for a long time can increase the risk of an embolism, your RFC might state that you'll need to change positions frequently throughout the day, elevate your legs to relieve swelling, or take unscheduled breaks.

Getting Medical Evidence to Support Your RFC

Your medical evidence is the foundation of your disability claim. Social Security can't award benefits based on subjective symptoms alone, so it's important to provide the agency with objective medical evidence that supports the restrictions in your RFC. Examples of evidence that Social Security will look for include:

  • lab reports
  • medical imaging, such as X-rays, CT scans, and ultrasound ("Doppler") reports, and
  • notes made by your doctor during your appointments.

If you have a doctor (such as a cardiologist) that you've been seeing regularly for DVT treatment, you should consider asking your doctor to write a medical source statement in support of your disability application. Social Security values the opinions of doctors—specialists in particular—who are directly responsible for your care.

How Social Security Uses Your RFC

Social Security will review your work history and compare your current RFC with the demands of your past jobs to see if you could do any of those jobs today. If not, the agency will take your RFC—along with your age, education level, and job skills—into account to determine if you can do another job.

For people under the age of 50, Social Security generally needs to see that you can't perform the easiest sit-down jobs before you can get disability benefits. Applicants over 50 might be able to get benefits even if they can do less demanding jobs using a special set of rules called the medical-vocational grid.

You can learn more in our article about how Social Security decides if you can work.

What if I Develop Chronic Venous Insufficiency?

Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) is a complication from DVT that happens when the veins in your legs are damaged, preventing the proper flow of blood to your lower extremities. CVI can cause long-term pain, swelling, and cellulitis or ulcers in your legs that make prolonged sitting, standing, or walking difficult.

If your CVI symptoms are severe enough, you may meet the requirements of Social Security's listing 4.11 for chronic venous insufficiency. You'll need to have been diagnosed with CVI, and your medical record will need to contain evidence of the following:

  • a type of severe swelling known as brawny edema that is extensive, covering one-third to two-thirds of a lower extremity, or
  • cramping, burning, or itching of the legs ("varicosities"), scaling of the skin on the lower legs ("dermatitis"), or sores that are recurring or non-healing ("ulcerations"), despite being treated for at least three months.

If you're not sure whether you meet the requirements of the listing, ask your doctor. Make sure that you provide evidence documenting the above medical signs and symptoms, such as vascular ultrasounds of your lower legs, blood tests, and notes from your treating physician. For more information, see our section on medical eligibility for disability benefits.

Updated July 25, 2023

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