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Qualifying for Social Security Disability Benefits?
Jan 5, 2013

I have been living with HIV for 13 and in 2009 was diagnosed with AIDS . My cd4 count had dropped to below 200 in the 13 years with no meds . I was started with treatment and now I keep getting sick with infections. I just found out that I have C.O.P.D. and diabetes, plus onset of congestive heart failure. I also fell at work and had to have surgery on my knee and am awaiting my disability rating from that . With all this going on do I qualify for Social Security Disability . My Mother and my family think so . They don't want me to work anymore and come down with any more Infections .

Response from Ms. Douaihy

Dear Writer,

Thank you for writing about such an important topic!

From your description of your medical conditions you very well may qualify for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration ("SSA"). An AIDS diagnosis by itself does not automatically get you benefits, but the combination of your severe impairments may be enough to prove you are too sick to work.

There are two monetary benefit programs administered by SSA for individuals too sick to work: Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and Social Security Disability Insurance ("SSDI"). To qualify for either you must be able to prove that your medical impairments (physical, mental or both) prevent you from working "substantial gainful activity" in the national economy. "Substantial gainful activity" really just means more than part-time work.

Regarding specific benefits programs through SSA, your eligibility depends on your financial need and resources. SSI is "means-tested" or only available to a medically eligible poor person with very limited assets. SSDI, on the other hand, is not means-tested. SSDI available to medically qualified individuals who have worked in the past and paid requisite taxes over the years. Importantly, SSDI benefits are only granted if you apply within a period you are still "insured". So if you have a work history, I would advise you to contact SSA to ask them when your "date last insured" is.

The first step to determine your eligibility for disability benefits is to apply with SSA. You can complete an application online at ssa.gov or simply walk into your local office for an appointment. In addition to your credible testimony about the ways in which your severe impairments limit your residual functional capacity on a daily basis, SSA will need ample medical documentation (i.e. certified hospital records) to substantiate your claims.

If you are denied benefits initially there is a formal appeals process you may pursue. If you choose to appeal, I would strongly advise you to consult with an attorney. If you cannot afford a private attorney, there are many excellent no-cost attorneys who may be able to help.

To find a pro bono attorney near you, check out the website of Legal Services Corporation at lsc.gov.

I wish you all the best.

Social Security Administration



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