Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome and Disability Benefits

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) develops secondary to another serious illness or injury. It causes fluid to build in the lungs, making it more difficult to breathe and severely restricting blood oxygenation. Lower oxygen concentration of blood starves the body’s organs, muscles, and other tissues. This can lead to serious and life-threatening complications, including malnutrition and organ damage.

Some people live through ARDS with no lasting effects, but most suffer long-term or permanent complications including lung damage as well as damage to other organs. If the ongoing effects of ARDS prevent you from working, you may be entitled to Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits.

Medically Qualifying with ARDS

The immediate symptoms of ARDS include severe breathing difficulties, low blood pressure, extreme fatigue, and confusion. An underlying heart or lung condition is commonly the culprit for ARDS, but other illnesses and injuries can also precede the development of this syndrome.

The illness that leads to ARDS can sometimes qualify for disability benefits, including chronic pneumonia, sepsis, and other infections. Lasting effects of ARDS may also qualify for benefits, including:

  • Respiratory scarring and chronic pulmonary insufficiency
  • Strokes or other complications resulting from the development of blood clots
  • Ongoing cognitive issues and memory problems

The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a manual called the Blue Book to determine eligibility for benefits. This manual contains disability listings and the medical evidence needed for proving severe disability with each.

The most common way ARDS suffers qualify for benefits is by meeting the listing for Chronic Pulmonary Insufficiency. This listing appears in Section 3.02 of the Blue Book and requires one of the following:

  • An FEV1 of between 1.65 and 1.05, dependent upon your height without shoes
  • An FVC of between 1.85 and 1.25, dependent upon your height without shoes
  • Chronically impaired blood gas exchange, documented by atrial blood gas values that fall within specific ranges

Visit the SSA’s Blue Book Section 3.02 listing for specific information on blood gas and other breathing test results that meet eligibility criteria.

Your chronic breathing issues may not meet the requirements outlined in the Chronic Pulmonary Insufficiency listing. If they do not, the SSA may review your claim under a number of other Blue Book listings, dependent upon the complications your ARDS caused.

  • If you have suffered a stroke – Section 11.04
  • For heart complications – Section 4.00
  • If you suffer chronic bacterial or viral lung infections – Section 3.04

Even if you are unable to meet or match a listing in the Blue Book, you may still be able to get disability benefits under what is known as a “medical vocational allowance.” For this to happen, the SSA must complete a residual functional capacity (RFC) analysis, which reviews all of your physical and mental limitations. If your RFC shows you are so limited by your condition that you are unable to work in any job, then you will be approved for SSD.

Getting Help with Your Claim

The fact that ARDS is not listed in the Blue Book complicates the review and approval process for people that suffer long-term or permanent disability. A Social Security attorney or advocate can help you determine the most effective method of applying for SSD, based on your specific symptoms and complications of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. An attorney or advocate can also help you prepare for and respond to all of the SSA’s requests for information.

Find Out If I Qualify for Benefits!