Applying for Disability Benefits with Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation of the colon or, more generally, your entire large intestine. It can be a source of high discomfort levels and severe pain, which can in turn affect your quality of life and even make it impossible for you to work full-time. Under some circumstances it can even be life-threatening, as it can lead to complications including colon rupture and even colon cancer.

With ulcerative colitis, the treatment goal is to reduce inflammation, but for some people, dietary changes and drugs fail to adequately reduce the pain and discomfort associated with the disease. In extreme causes, your doctor may even recommend the surgical removal of your entire colon and rectum.

Should you find yourself debilitated by UC in this manner, you may be eligible to receive Social Security Administration (SSA) disability benefits, which can provide you with monthly cash payment to cover your living expenses and facilitate access to Medicare or Medicaid to cover your ongoing treatment costs.

Determining Benefits Eligibility with Colitis

When you apply for disability benefits, the SSA consults the Blue Book, its guidebook of disabling impairments, to confirm that you meet a listed condition and are therefore eligible for financial support. Ulcerative colitis is usually evaluated under Listing 5.06-Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which will find you disabled if you have a diagnosis of IBD in addition to a listed complication such as:

  • a bowel obstruction
  • anemia
  • a tender abdominal mass
  • perianal disease with a fistula of abscess

Alternatively, you may also qualify if you have lost a considerable amount of weight due to ulcerative colitis, as the SSA will consider you disabled if you have a BMI (body mass index) of 17.5 or less.

Applying for Disability Benefits

Applying for SSA disability benefits is a comparatively straightforward process. After completing an application form, you assemble all relevant medical documentation and send it in. For an ulcerative colitis diagnosis, this medical data, which you may collect from your healthcare team, may include the following:

  • imaging results such as X-rays, CT scans, and colonoscopies
  • blood test results
  • stool samples
  • notes/outcomes of surgical procedures

You must also be able to prove that the symptoms of ulcerative colitis will leave you completely disabled for a minimum of twelve months.

Your doctor will also complete the required residual functional capacity (RFC) form, which the SSA will use to evaluate how much ulcerative colitis has limited or prevented your ability to maintain gainful employment in fields in which you are fitted to do so by experience and/or training. For example, if you are in too much pain to remain on your feet for long periods of time, you will likely no longer be able to work on a factory assembly line or sustain the concentration needed for jobs like engineering or architecture. In instances like these, the SSA will likely find you to be disabled. If you are over a certain age, (usually 50) your likelihood of a disability finding can increase because it can be more difficult to retrain for a new occupation while dealing with ulcerative colitis.

Receiving Benefits Without Meeting a Listing

If you do not meet a Blue Book listing, it may still be possible for you to receive SSA disability benefits under the medical vocational allowance, which is intended for applicants who did not meet a listing but are still genuinely disabled. If the symptoms of ulcerative colitis leave you too weak and in too much pain to maintain gainful employment, you may still be able to receive disability benefits.

Often both painful and debilitating, ulcerative colitis can jeopardize your ability to simultaneously support your family and maintain treatment costs. Fortunately, disability benefits are available to ease the financial burden so you can face the future with a more positive outlook.

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Rachel Gaffney is an Outreach Specialist at Disability Benefits Help, an independent organization dedicated to helping people of all ages receive the Social Security disability benefits they deserve. She currently lives in Boston, MA, but helps those seeking assistance nationwide. If you have any questions on this article or would like a little more information on how to qualify for disability benefits, she can be reached at rsg@ssd-help.org

Kristen SandersComment