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Can You Apply for Disability Benefits With Diabetes?

Medically reviewed by Angelica Balingit, M.D.
Written by Torrey Kim
Posted on August 8, 2023

Even the best accommodations at work sometimes aren’t enough to help you keep your job when you have diabetes. Certain symptoms, such as blurry vision, numbness, nerve damage, and fatigue, can make working extremely difficult.

“I am considering going on disability,” one DiabetesTeam member shared. “I have fought several health complications and continued to force myself to work while doing so, but the struggle is becoming too much for me.”

When people in the U.S. with diabetes can no longer work, many seek Social Security disability benefits. Disability benefits help replace lost income when people with diabetes leave their jobs.

Applying for disability benefits can be emotionally difficult and time-consuming. “Trying to get disability for neuropathy,” one DiabetesTeam member wrote. “They keep dragging their feet. I used to be a race mechanic and fuel man for one of the top monster truck race teams in the country, traveling all over. I also have diabetic retinopathy in my eyes.”

Applying for a disability claim can feel intimidating, but understanding the process ahead of time can make applying easier.

Disability Benefit Programs in the U.S.

There are two different federal disability programs in the United States, Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). To qualify for either program, you must have a disability that interferes with your ability to work.

Social Security Disability Income provides benefits to those who have previously had full-time work. SSDI benefits are funded through payroll taxes. If you are approved, you can receive benefits six months after you become disabled. If you have been disabled for at least a year, you may be able to get back payments of disability benefits for one year. You are eligible for Medicare 24 months after you start receiving SSDI.

Supplemental Security Income provides benefits to those who have not worked the required time period and have a low income. If you are approved, you can receive benefits in the next month. You may also be eligible for back payments of SSI if you became disabled before your SSI approval.

In most states, SSI eligibility qualifies you for Medicaid. In a few states, you have to apply for Medicaid separately from SSI, but the criteria for both are the same. Eligibility criteria for SSI recipients vary across states.

Almost every state provides an SSI supplement. The eligibility rules for supplements vary by state.

There is an asset cap for receiving Supplemental Security Income. For 2023, if an individual has more than $2,000 of assets (or a couple has more than $3,000 of assets), they lose eligibility. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a list of which assets are counted toward the maximum.

It’s possible to get both SSDI and SSI if you have very limited funds and have a work history.

Qualifying for Disability With Diabetes

To determine whether someone is disabled enough to be eligible for benefits, the Social Security Administration will evaluate several factors.

The following qualifying criteria will be examined when you apply for SSDI:

  • You must be unable to engage in “substantial gainful activity.” For 2023, you are considered capable of substantial gainful activity if you earn an average of at least $1,470 per month (or $2,460 or more if you’re blind). If you earn more, however, you may be eligible for reduced benefits.
  • You must be incapable of performing basic tasks required for most jobs, including standing for extended periods, walking, lifting, sitting, and remembering. You must not have been able to perform these tasks for at least 12 months.
  • You must have a recognized disability. The Social Security Administration provides a Listing of Impairments, including diabetes, listed under Endocrine Disorders.
  • You must be unable to do any work you did previously. (If you’re applying for SSI benefits, it’s not necessary to have a work history.)
  • You must be unable to do any other form of sustainable work. The Social Security Administration will consider your diagnosis, age, medical history, education, and work experience, as well as any other skills you have that might be applied to work.

If you’re applying for SSI, the government will determine whether you meet the following criteria:

  • You’re 65 years or older, have a disability, or are blind.
  • Your monthly income falls below a certain limit. For 2023, that amount is typically below $1,913 for individuals or $2,827 for couples if it’s from earnings. If the income is from a pension, the amount must be below $934 for individuals or $1,391 a month for couples.
  • You live in a U.S. state or territory, or you’re a student temporarily abroad due to studying or being the child of military parents.

Application Process for SSDI and SSI

Applying for disability benefits for diabetes requires a lot of paperwork. The Social Security Administration offers a checklist of necessary application information. Below is a summary of what you’ll need to provide.

Personal and Family Member Information

  • Your full legal name, date of birth, and Social Security number
  • Full names and dates of birth of your current or previous spouses, and dates of marriage, divorce, or death
  • Full names and dates of birth of your children
  • Bank account information

Medical Evidence About Your Diabetes

Medical evidence is typically the most important component of a disability application. Make sure your diabetes treatment team is aware that you are applying for disability so they can document your condition accordingly. Documentation is especially important if you are required to have a disability evaluation, and they must include objective findings based on examinations and test results conducted by medical professionals.

You may need the following documentation for your application:

  • The name and contact information of your endocrinologist, primary care provider, or other medical professionals who can discuss your diabetes and health
  • A complete list of medications, both past and present, that you have taken for diabetes and any medical tests that have been done
  • A description of how diabetes symptoms — such as pain, diminished visual acuity, or problems with numbness — affect your ability to do daily activities, supported by medical records

Total Employment History

  • Earnings from the past year
  • Any current employers or those you worked for in the past two years
  • A complete work history from the past 15 years, including any jobs from before you became disabled
  • Whether you are getting or intend to receive workers’ compensation
  • Military service

Documents

  • Birth certificate
  • Social Security card
  • Proof of citizenship
  • W-2 or other tax forms from the previous year
  • Any medical records about your condition
  • Proof of any workers’ compensation you have received

You can apply for SSDI online if you aren’t currently receiving benefits and if you haven’t been denied in the past 60 days. You can apply for SSI online if you have never been married, if you were born in the United States, and if you are between 18 and 65. If you don’t meet any of those criteria, you can still apply at a local Social Security office or over the phone.

Appealing a Disability Application Rejection

It takes an average of three to five months to process an initial application for disability benefits, but your wait may be shorter or longer, depending on your situation.

Only 21 percent of those who applied for disability benefits between 2010 and 2019 were approved on their first attempt. You can appeal the decision if your application is denied. The first step is reconsideration, when your case will be evaluated by someone who did not take part in the first evaluation. About 2 percent of applications that weren’t approved the first time were approved during reconsideration from 2010 through 2019.

Reconsideration can take time, and it may be frustrating to wait. If necessary, you have the option to file a second appeal. The second appeal includes a hearing by an administrative law judge. These are judges trained in disability laws, who will hear all the evidence in your disability case. You may have a disability attorney represent you at this hearing.

If you are denied at this level, you can ask the Appeals Council to review your case and make a decision on it. About 8 percent of SSDI claims between 2010 and 2019 were approved during a hearing with an administrative law judge or the Appeals Council. If you are denied at this level, your last remaining option is a federal court hearing.

DiabetesTeam Members’ Experiences

Filing for disability benefits can be stressful. “They routinely turn you down the first two times, hoping you will give up,” one DiabetesTeam member wrote.

Members have shared a variety of ways to help deal with the process:

  • “I’m on disability and Medicare and it took me a while to get it, but I got a lawyer through a prepaid legal service. One month later, I got my disability back pay.”
  • “I filed for SSDI and was denied on my first try. I’ve hired a company that only helps those trying to get SSDI.”
  • “Most people I know who have applied for SSDI get denied their first time around but with a good attorney have been approved the second time, so don’t get discouraged.”
  • “I didn’t get Medicare for three years after SSI. Hang in there — it takes time with the government. I had to get a lawyer after being turned down three times.”

Consider These International Resources

If you’d like to research more about disability benefits in countries outside of the United States, check out these resources, listed by country:

Talk With Your Doctor

You’ll need help along the way as you file for disability for your diabetes. Always talk to your health care team because they’ve likely been through the process with others and may be able to provide you with good advice, as well as the documentation you need to turn in a strong disability application.

You Are Not Alone With Diabetes

By joining DiabetesTeam, the social network and online community for those living with diabetes, you gain a support group of more than 131,000 people who understand life with diabetes.

Have you applied for Social Security disability benefits for type 2 diabetes? Do you have any advice about the process? Comment below or start a conversation on your Activities feed.

Posted on August 8, 2023
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Angelica Balingit, M.D. is a specialist in internal medicine, board certified since 1996. Learn more about her here.
Torrey Kim is a freelance writer with MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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