Thursday, September 20, 2007

Does obesity make you eligible for disability benefits from Social Security ?

There was a time when the social security impairment listing manual actually included an obesity listing. However, that listing focused largely on the individual body systems that may be impaired as a result of severe obesity, such as the respiratory system, musculoskeletal system, and cardiovascular system.

The obesity listing no longer exists and the reasoning behind its deletion may have been that, if consideration was already given in the manual to certain body systems, a claimant's eligibility for disability benefits should simply be rated according to those specific listings. However, it may also have had something to do with obesity bias. As an examiner, I found that the obesity listing was frequently derided (I've blogged about this: never assume that the people working on your case are empathetic or completely impartial. The fact of the matter is that they are not. If they were entirely impartial, you would not see huge differences in outcomes between the various levels of the system and between various states in the country).

Was the decision to delete the obesity listing right or wrong? Personally, I think it was a mistake and here's why: when an individual's body weight reaches a certain threshold of obesity, impairments are typically bound to follow in the various body systems and, over time, become progressively worse (sometimes becoming life-threatening), whether those impairments are currently listing-level or not.

Also, consider this scenario: An individual is severely obese and has respiratory, musculoskeletal (typically, arthritic degeneration), and cardivascular deficits (such as congestive heart failure). Even if this individual's respiratory, joint, and heart problems are not listing level, in and of themselves (i.e., none of these individual conditions meet the disability approval criteria set forth in the impairment listing manual), they may still, in combination with the functional limiations that would normally be present in a severely obese individual, make it impossible for the individual to: A. perform the duties of their past work and B. performs the duties of any other suitable type of work, as determined by age, skills, and education.

To answer the question, though, "can obesity make you eligible for disability benefits?", the answer is possibly, but only in the manner of being granted a medical vocational allowance or by satisyfing the requirements of another listed impairment.

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