The Social Security Administration (SSA) defines obesity as “a complex, chronic disease characterized by excessive accumulation of body fat.” Being obese — even what the SSA calls “extreme obesity” with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more — is not enough to collect disability benefits. You are only potentially eligible for disability benefits when your obesity, its symptoms, or other conditions that it has led to, are so impairing that you cannot work.

Obesity is an extremely complex condition that is very hard to win disability for. We strongly recommend you speak to a disability lawyer about getting Social Security disability for obesity in Raleigh. For a free case evaluation with a Raleigh disability lawyer, call Lunn and Forro, PLLC at 888-966-6566.

Does obesity qualify for disability benefits?

In the Blue Book, the SSA provides a list of impairments and the criteria claimants must meet to qualify for disability benefits. Obesity was on the list, but the SSA removed it in 1999 because it recognized that many obese people are still capable of working.

This ruling is understandable; after all, the SSA only gives benefits for total disability, not partial. Many obese people are not functionally incapacitated. If you are still capable of working, regardless of body weight, you will not qualify for benefits.

However, the SSA still recognizes that obesity is often associated with various, severely disabling health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.

So, when the SSA removed the obesity listing, it added three amendments to the Blue Book under the musculoskeletal, respiratory, and cardiovascular body system listings. These amendments state that when claims examiners evaluate an application, they are to consider the additional and cumulative effects of obesity for that body system.

So, while obesity may not, in and of itself, qualify you as disabled, if your obesity has caused or contributed to another condition or combination of conditions that totally prevents you from working, then you may still qualify for disability benefits.

Other conditions that are often associated with obesity include:

  • Arthritis
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • COPD
  • Mental disorders such as depression
  • Pain disorders
  • Hypertension
  • Gall bladder disease
  • Sleep apnea
  • Stroke
  • Certain cancers

How does the SSA evaluate disability claims based on obesity?

The SSA will only deem you as disabled if your condition is “severe” and you cannot work. In the SSA’s policy statement regarding obesity, it explains: “As with any other medical condition, we will find that obesity is a ‘severe’ impairment when, alone or in combination with another medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s), it significantly limits an individual’s physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.”

When the SSA evaluates your case, it will use an RFC, or residual functional capacity assessment. This form assesses your ability to perform basic skills, like walking, standing, lifting, stooping, etc. It helps the SSA determine whether you can do any type of work.

If the SSA decides that you are still capable of working (such as at an office job), it will deny your application for benefits. However, if it finds that despite your education, training, age, and experience, your obesity and the symptoms and other conditions associated with it are so limiting that there is no job you can perform, you may recover benefits.

How do I prove my disability to the SSA?

Collecting disability benefits is challenging for almost every applicant — particularly so with a condition like obesity that is not on the Listing of Impairments. You will need to provide the SSA with thorough records of all your medical conditions and obesity-related complications. Below are a few examples of the evidence the SSA may want to see:

  • Your BMI report
  • Lab work, including your sugar levels (diabetes marker), kidney and liver enzyme levels, and cholesterol (heart disease marker)
  • Stress test
  • Tests that identify other conditions, such as X-rays or MRIs that indicate joint or musculoskeletal problems
  • Notes from your doctor regarding your condition, prognoses, severity, treatments, and limitations
  • Psychological evaluations and other mental health records

Application denials are very common. To improve your chances of proving your disability, it is a good idea to have a disability attorney assist you with the application. We can help you gather evidence from medical and non-medical sources that support your case. And if the SSA denies your claim, we will be on the ready to help you appeal your case.

What are the other criteria for disability benefits?

The first criteria for disability benefits is either meeting the description under an impairment included in the SSA’s listing, or having a condition (or conditions) that is so severe that you cannot engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA).

The SSA defines SGA as having an income of over a certain amount. In 2016, the threshold is $1,130. If your income exceeds that, you are engaging in SGA and therefore, not disabled.

Additionally, to be entitled to benefits, your condition must have lasted or be expected to last a year or longer or result in death.

You will also need to meet certain financial or work credit requirements to qualify for benefits. The criteria are somewhat complicated, but essentially, if you are applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), your income must be below $733/month and you must have less than $2,000 in assets. (Keep in mind, though, that the SSA does not count all of your income and assets.)

If you are applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, you will need a certain number of accumulated work credits, depending on your age.

For more detailed information about the criteria and to find out if you qualify, call Lunn & Forro, PLLC for a free consultation. We can review your case, answer your questions, and help you navigate the disability application process.

If you received a denial, we can help you quickly move forward with an appeal. Contact us today at 888-966-6566.