Immune Deficiency Disorders and Social Security Disability

Is An Autoimmune Disease a Disability?

Autoimmune diseases are disabilities according to the SSA. There are over 80 autoimmune diseases that the SSA considers are disabilities that qualify for social security disability benefits including multiple sclerosis, type I diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

If you can prove that your autoimmune disease is so severe that you will be unable to work full time for at least 12 months, the SSA will consider your autoimmune medical condition as a disability, and you should be able to qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

The SSA uses the Blue Book, which is a list of disabilities, as a guide to determine whether you are eligible for Social Security disability benefits. Most disabling medical conditions fall under one or more of its 14 sections. When the SSA decides whether your autoimmune disease is eligible for disability benefits it will depend on the symptoms you are experiencing which prevents you from going to work. The Blue Book divides autoimmune diseases into 9 categories. Some of them are:

  • connective tissue disease;
  • inflammatory arthritis;
  • lupus;
  • scleroderma;
  • vasculitis.

When you are filing your disability benefit claim you should provide medical records that show that the infections caused by your disease are either resistant to current forms of treatment or so severe and frequent that you need to be hospitalized and/or given IV treatments at least three times per year. However, if you have received stem cell transplants, you will be considered disabled for 12 months, after which your medical condition will be reevaluated.

Immune deficiency disorders, excluding HIV infection – Conditions & Symptoms

Immune deficiency disorders result from the immune system’s insufficient production of the antibodies necessary to fight off disease and infection. There are many kinds of immune deficiency disorders, but they are all placed in one of two categories. The first is primary, and the second is acquired.

Primary immune deficiency disorders are those which are existent from birth, and often inherited. Disorders in this group are usually identifiable and diagnosed at birth or early childhood. There are roughly 100 catalogued primary immune deficiency disorders, though many of them are rare. Most of these disorders result from a lack of specific antibodies.

Specific kinds of primary immune deficiency disorders and their affects are listed here:

  • 1. X-linked agammaglobulinemia affects only males and results in infections of the ear, nose, throat, skin, and lungs.
  • 2. B lymphocyte deficiencies come in many forms and result in bacterial infections in various body systems as well as rheumatoid arthritis, anemia, and sometimes cancer.
  • 3. T lymphocyte deficiencies result in weakness to viruses, fungi, and some bacteria. Infections are more severe and often fatal. DiGeorge syndrome is the most common of these, with recognizable physical characteristics, and is caused from the lack of a thymus gland, largely responsible for T lymphocyte production.
  • 4. Combined immune deficiencies result from a lack of both B and T lymphocites. An example is SCID, a disease that shows up in before age 1 and causes severe infections, diarrhea, thrush, and , without a bone marrow transplant, usually results in death by the age of 2.
  • 5. Disorders of innate immunity affect phagoctyes, another component of the immune system, and result in severe infections.

The second group of immune deficiency disorders are known as acquired, and as the term suggests, are not the result of birth, but of other circumstances. These immune deficiency disorders often result from the effects of specific medication that temporarily suppresses or permanently damages the immune system, such as chemotherapy used in the treatment of cancer. Immune deficiency also occurs when the spleen is removed, since the spleen is an important immune system organ.

Another cause of acquired immune deficiency disorders are diseases such as chickenpox, lupus, mono, and tuberculosis. Because of the potentially severe consequences of these diseases, children are given vaccines against them. Severe malnutrition is also known to lead to acquired immune deficiency, a phenomenon that is more prevalent in third world countries.

There are two very well-known specific acquired immune deficiency disorders:

  • 1. AIDS, caused by HIV infection, is the well-known killer which gradually weakens the entire immune system; sufferers usually die from unusual and severe infectious diseases.
  • 2. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is a relatively new disease that appeared in 2003 in China. It resulted in 80 deaths, with symptoms of respiratory problems and fever. There has not been an outbreak since 2003.

Although symptoms of immune deficiency disorders vary, the most common warning signs are unusual diseases and conditions, and sickness and disease that don’t show improvement. Blood tests are usually able to confirm an immune deficiency disorder.

What Autoimmune Diseases Qualify For Disability Benefits?

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)

This is a chronic inflammatory disease that may affect any organs.

Systemic vasculitis

This is an inflammation of the blood vessels often as a result of adverse drug reactions, a chronic infection, and sometimes malignancies. Often, it is chronic, but the cause is never discovered.

Systemic sclerosis (scleroderma)

This is the thickening of the skin.

Polymyositis and dermatomyositis

The features of these disorders are an inflammatory process in striated muscle, occurring on its own or it is linked to other autoimmune disorders or malignancy.

Inflammatory arthritis

Inflammatory arthritis covers many disorders that are not the same when it comes to cause, course, and outcome. Clinically, inflammation of the major joints in an upper or lower extremity often dominates causing walking difficulties and other movement problems.  The arthritis could affect other joints.

Inflammatory arthritis involving the axial spine (spondyloarthropathy). 

In adults, inflammatory arthritis involving the axial spine may be associated with disorders such as the following:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Behçet's disease
  • Whipple's disease;
  • Psoriatic arthritis;
  • Ankylosing spondylitis;
  • Reiter's syndrome.

 Inflammatory arthritis, which involves the peripheral joints. 

In adults, inflammatory arthritis involving peripheral joints connected to the following disorders:

  • Crystal deposition disorders (gout and pseudogout);
  • Inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Lyme disease;
  • Psoriatic arthritis;
  • Rheumatoid arthritis;
  • Sjögren's syndrome;

Sjögren's syndrome

This an immune-mediated disorder of the exocrine glands involving the lacrimal and salivary glands resulting in dry eyes and a dry mouth, and possible complications, like corneal damage, blepharitis (eyelid inflammation), dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing), dental caries, and the limited ability to speak for long periods of time. 

Filing for Social Security Disability with an Immune Deficiency Disorder Diagnosis, Excluding HIV Infection

The Social Security Administration lists immune deficiency disorders under qualifying impairments in the SSA's Blue Book. If you are disabled because of an immune deficiency disorder, you may qualify for Social Security benefits (SSDI). Children who show primary immune deficiency disorders, as well as certain adults, may otherwise qualify for SSI.

You must present acceptable medical documentation of your specific immune deficiency disorder to the SSA. One of the three following disabling conditions must be met in order for your condition to qualify you for benefits:

  • 1. You must have one of these severe infections that is not responding to treatment or requires hospitalization more than 3 times a year – sepsis, meningitis, pneumonia, septic arthritis, endocarditis, or sinusitis.
  • 2. You are undergoing a stem cell transplant. You qualify for disability for up to a year after the procedure. After that time the SSA will determine if the treatment was effective or if you are still disabled.
  • 3. You must have sufficient evidence of a reoccurring immune deficiency disorder and two severe illness symptoms as well as evidence that your condition keeps you from performing a daily routine, interact socially, and/or keeps you from maintain a job.

Additional Resources

Your Immune Deficiency Disorder Disability Case, Excluding HIV Infection

Your immune deficiency disorder is more likely to qualify you for disability benefits than many other impairments, mostly because of the well-documented debilitation which occurs without a properly functioning immune system. However, since the process of applying for disability benefits can be complicated, it is a good idea to employ a Social Security Attorney to help you receive the benefits you need. Most are denied disability initially, but with the assistance of an attorney, you can file an appeal and strengthen your claim.

Considering applying for Social Security disability benefits but not sure how much you’ll earn per month? Our SSDI Calculator can help you determine how much you’ll receive from the SSA before you file for disability.

Find Out If I Qualify for Benefits!