Can I Continue Working with Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic condition in which the pancreas doesn't function effectively which results in consistently high rates of sugar in the blood stream. As the individual’s own body is not able to effectively regulation blood sugar levels, medical intervention is required to do so.

There are two major forms of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. The onset of Type 1 diabetes can occur in individuals of all ages, but is most commonly diagnosed in minors. The pancreas of Type 1 patients produces little to no insulin and insulin injections are required to manage the disease.

In Type 2 diabetes, the onset of the condition can also occur at any age, but happens most frequently in adulthood. Type 2 patients may be insulin resistant, produce too little insulin, or both. Medication and/or insulin injections may be necessary to manage the disease.

Most diabetics must either take a prescription medication to control their blood glucose levels or must inject themselves with insulin, a hormone produced by a healthy pancreas, which is responsible for regulating level of sugar in the blood stream. Additionally, diabetics must typically monitor their blood glucose levels throughout the day and also ensure they eat an appropriate diet for promoting blood sugar regularity.

But, is diabetes a disability? Success in managing diabetes and its symptoms varies significantly from one case to the next. Most people are able to continue working even with the condition; however, in severe cases in which the disease and its symptoms severely limit the ability to perform standard job functions, the individual may be unable to maintain gainful employment. 

Is Diabetes a Disability?

Diabetes may be considered a disability by the SSA if it is severe enough to match the criteria in the relevant section of the Blue Book under Endocrine Disorders as well as render you unable to work for at least the next 12 months.

Obtaining disability benefits for diabetes can be challenging because in most cases the SSA assesses every diabetes application on an individual case by case basis. Diabetes is a condition in which the normal functions of the pancreas are damaged. There are two types of diabetes.

Diabetes 1 is a condition diagnose early on in life caused by the inability of the pancreas to secrete enough insulin or not secrete insulin at all. Individuals with this condition must have insulin injections to control their glucose levels and in most cases the condition cannot be reversed.

Diabetes 2 is a condition which develops later in life. The sufferer finds that their pancreas no longer produces enough insulin or the insulin produced cannot properly control glucose levels.

Both types of diabetes may prevent the sufferer from gainful employment. This may be established through a residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment. This is carried out by the treating physician or one appointed by the SSA. The RFC assessment tests the diabetes patient’s ability to do certain physical tasks such as sitting, standing, walking and lifting. It may also include some mental task such as concentrating, listening, responding to stimuli and talking. The RFC helps to establish whether the applicant is able to work.

Diabetes and Physical Capacity

Diabetes can cause a number of symptoms, most of which are associated with high blood sugar levels and include excessive thirst, frequent urination, weight loss, blurry vision, extreme or constant hunger, and fatigue. While these are signs of the disease, they are also signs that blood sugar levels are too high even in diabetics who are taking oral medications or insulin.

With a proper diet, moderate daily exercise, a consistent sleep schedule and appropriate use of prescribed medications, including insulin, most diabetics are able to control these basic symptoms of the disease and continue working their usual job and schedule. There are however complications that can arise with the disease, including vision/eye problems such as sensitivity to light and even blindness. Nerve damage, or neuropathy, digestive issues, metabolism problems, and frequent skin and feet sores and infections can also be among the complications diabetics must deal with.

Those unable to regulate their blood sugar levels, and who deal with complications such as those listed above, may or may not be physically capable of continuing to perform their normal job functions. People who work in more physically active or taxing jobs may have more trouble continuing to maintain gainful employment.

Notably, there are a couple of jobs that diabetics cannot legally hold due to safety concerns. These include commercial airline pilot and long-distance, commercial truck driver and bus driver positions.

Diabetes and Mental Capacity

The symptoms of diabetes, when managed, produce little to no problems with mental capacity. Unregulated blood sugar issues can cause problems with clarity of thought, vocabulary selection and other speech issues, as well as concentration and decision making problems. These symptoms typically occur because blood sugar levels are extremely high or super low, both of which can occur in diabetics when their disease is not properly monitored and managed.

When the disease is managed correctly, most diabetics have few, if any, episodes of these mental capacity symptoms. In other words, most diabetics are able to meet the daily mental demands of their work without issue, as long as they manage their illness appropriately.

Applying for Disability with Diabetes

Though diabetes is a condition the Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes as potentially disabling, qualifying for SSD benefits can be difficult. The SSA evaluates the disability application of a diabetic closely in order to determine if the disease severely limits the applicant’s ability perform the basic job duties required in most fields. In other words,  the SSA answers the question, "  is diabetes a disability?," on a case-by-case basis dependent on the evidence, case, and situation presented in the disability benefits applications of people who have diabetes. 

But, again,  is diabetes a disability and how can you qualify for disability with diabetes? Qualifying for disability is not as simple as being unable to perform in your previous position. You must also be found not capable of performing other types of work for which you may be qualified. In other words, your diabetes must be severe enough that it prevents you from seeking employment in a different kind of job than that which you’ve previously worked.

Additionally, SSD applicants with diabetes must either meet the SSA’s Blue Book requirements for eligibility listed under “Diabetes mellitus”, a category that appears in the Endocrine System listing, OR they must be found to have so limited of “residual functional capacity” (RFC) that they meet the general medical requirements for disability benefits otherwise.

Establishing disability with any diagnosis can be challenging, even with a chronic condition like diabetes. Having the assistance of a Social Security advocate or attorney can make it more likely your application for SSD benefits will be approved. For a free evaluation of your claim from a disability attorney or advocate in your area, please fill out the form on this site. 

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