Can I get disability benefits for my digestive disorder?

Digestive Disorders are a class of illnesses that affect the stomach, intestinal tract, and related organs. Digestive disorders include illnesses such as:

  • Chronic liver disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Short bowel syndrome
  • Crohn’s disease

In minor cases, your condition may cause unpleasant urges and general discomfort. In more severe cases, your condition may cause you severe pain — pain that impacts your ability to work, and in some cases can prevent you from working altogether, fatigue, concentration problems, frequent trips to the restroom, and other severe symptoms.

Can I Receive Social Security Disability benefits for a Digestive Disorder?

Fortunately, the Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes many types of digestive system impairments as giving rise to eligibility for SSDI benefits. As a New Orleans SSDI lawyer, I have helped individuals obtain benefits for digestive tract disabilities.

If you are not engaging in gainful activity due to a digestive disorder and its symptoms or limitations, the Social Security Administration must determine if you have an impairment that is “severe.” This is step 2 of the evaluation process. (Visit my prior blog post explaining the steps of Social Security’s Sequential Evaluation Process.

Generally, to establish a digestive tract disease as a medically determinable severe impairment, you should provide:

  • Objective medical testing, establishing the digestive tract disease (such as CT scans, MRI, blood testing results, colonoscopy/endoscopy results, etc.); and/or
  • Evidence of consistent and repeated symptoms despite treatment

At step 3 of the Sequential Evaluation Process, the SSA determines if your condition meets a listing. For digestive tract diseases, SSA will determine if your condition meets any of the Listing 5.00 requirements. This is a complex listing that requires substantial medical evidence and knowledge of your specific type of disease, objective testing results, and a longitudinal medical history discussing your treatment, effects, responses, and prognosis.

The key to meeting the listing is to have the appropriate objective medical testing and a longitudinal medical history that addresses each of the requirements. A knowledgeable Louisiana Social Security Attorney can help you determine if your residual effects meet the listing.

If your related symptoms do not equal a listing, the Social Security Administration will next assess your residual functional capacity (RFC) (the work you can still do, despite your digestive disease), to determine whether you qualify for benefits at steps 4 and 5 of the Sequential Evaluation Process. The lower your RFC, the less the Social Security Administration believes you can do. In determining your RFC, the Social Security Administration adjudicator should consider all of your symptoms in deciding how they may affect your ability to function.

Tips for SSDI Application for Digestive Tract Diseases

  1. Make sure that the medical records diagnosing the digestive tract disease are included. This may be a CT Scan, MRI, blood chemistry, colonoscopy/endoscopy report, or other appropriate testing. It is important that you “know your medical records.”
  2. Make sure your medical records document ALL of your symptoms and limitations and the residual effects you experience. Your medical records should not just document your digestive disease, they should include notes on your symptoms like how often you feel symptoms, how severe each symptom is and how long each symptom lasts. Make sure that all your medical problems are adequately documented by your doctor, and that you are receiving the appropriate medical attention for all of your disabling symptoms. Make sure any side effects of medication are noted in your records.
  3. Have someone assist you with your claim if your memory, concentration, etc. prevent you from completing the forms yourself.
  4. See a specialist. Treatment of digestive tract disease by a gastroenterologist will carry more weight than the same diagnosis and treatment from a family physician or internist.
  5. Comply with your doctor’s orders and try what is recommended like diet and exercise, weight loss, etc. The key is that you want your records to show that you are concerned about your health and are working with your doctor to improve.
  6. See a mental health professional. If you are suffering from depression or anxiety as a result of the chronic problems and inability to participate in life, see a mental health professional to diagnose, treat, and document these conditions.
  7. See your doctor regularly and keep your appointments.
  8. If you can, provide evidence of a long work history.
  9. Provide examples of unsuccessful attempts to return to work and/or unsuccessful attempts to work in a decreased capacity, if applicable.
  10. Include information from nonmedical sources to support your medical claims. Gather Information from neighbors, friends, relatives, clergy, and/or past employers about your impairments and how they affect your function. Have them document changes that they have seen in your ability over time. These are not given nearly as much weight as testimony from a medical professional, but they don’t hurt.
  11. Keep a journal. Make regular notes about your impairment, level of function, and treatments.
  12. If you need assistance with your claim, contact an attorney who is knowledgeable in Social Security Disability.  Call Loyd Bourgeois at 985-240-9773

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Loyd J. Bourgeois
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Disability and Personal Injury Attorney