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Permanent disability
Mar 14, 2013

While I'm still very healthy and working I'm wondering about if/when I have health issues that prevent me from doing my job. Is there any difference between HIV related health issues and all other health issues with regards to disability? What is required to qualify for permanent disability? The reason I ask is because my job has become extremely stressful and I'm afraid the long term stress might harm my already weak immune system (CD4 264). I'm afraid I may need to find another job that is less stressful but I'm 54 years old and I know it's hard for someone my age to find work in a new field. Any advice would be appreciated! Thanks, John

Response from Mr. Chambers

Neither private disability insurance nor Social Security use the term "Permanent". That term is used primarily in determining "permanent" benefits under workers' compensation and veterans' benefits.

Private disability and Social Security will both periodically check to see if you have recovered enough to return to some type of work. They both also offer incentives to help you return to work.

Unfortunately, neither take into consideration what problems you may have in the future due to current activities. They only look at whether or not you are able to work now.

As far as what it takes to qualify for disability benefits, they look at your functional ability and your restrictions and limitations caused by your medical condition. For persons with HIV, that means T4 Cell Count or Viral Load really don't have a bearing on you being "disabled" because they are not a measure of your current functional ability. This is despite the fact that most insurance companies will site them as reasons to deny benefits.

They will look what physical and/or cognitive problems impair your ability to function. This can be difficult because medical records tend to focus on lab numbers and other objective data, and not describing thoroughly actual symptoms, especially ongoing ones visit after visit.

The definitions of total disability also vary. Each private insurance company defines disability in each contract. It is usually something like:"you are unable, due to a medical condition, to perform the substantial and material duties of your regular occupation or, after two years of benefits, any occupation for which you are reasonably suited by education, training, or experience."

Social Security's definition is: Due to a serious and documented medical condition, you are unable to earn Substantial Gainful Activity ($1,040 monthly in 2013) and that has lasted or will last at least twelve months or result in death."

Both will usually make that determination based on your medical records rather than a statement by your doctor or and examination by one of their doctors.

They only substantial difference between HIV and other conditions is that under Social Security, HIV claims are granted expedited process, which still means the claim will take four to six months or longer.

As far as your situation goes, you may want to see if you qualify to exercise your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. That act is designed to help people with medical conditions (HIV automatically comes under the law) remain employed by making Reasonable Accommodation to your duties which, in your case, would lower your stress level. I don't know if that is appropriate for your specific situation, but it may certainly worth exploring.

Good luck, Jacques

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