Q: I have been HIV positive for about three years, and the standard treatment with retroviral drugs is no longer working for my case. Can I get my SSDI application approved more quickly through the Compassionate Allowances program?
For the last 30 years we have been fighting against the threat of AIDS.
When the disease emerged in the mid-1980s, some doomsayers predicted a mass epidemic that would devastate the human race. Some experts ventured that medical science would develop a cure shortly. Neither forecast was accurate. For three decades, we have waging a battle to limit the ravages caused by HIV infection, but there are no signs that a final victory is at hand.
We’re very sorry to hear that retroviral drug therapy—typically the favored treatment option—isn’t working for you. We hope you have better luck with other therapeutic options. But we’re not doctors, we’re lawyers, and we’re better positioned to talk about the law behind federal disability benefits.
As you know, the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program was established to provide workers with a source of income when they are too disabled to function at their jobs. However, the Social Security Administration is a little quirky when it comes to defining what counts as a disability. The standard reference is called the Blue Book, a collection of listings for various ailments. If the medical evidence submitted along with an SSDI application shows that a person meets the standards of the Blue Book listing, the applicant will be notified that he is considered disabled. If his application also meets other rules on income and work experience, he will be accepted for SSDI benefits.
Being HIV positive or being a person with AIDS is not, in itself, a qualifying condition for SSDI benefits.
Before you explode in outrage, consider this: having AIDS means that your immune system has been turned off. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have faced any medical consequences from your viral infection. So it’s not reasonable to say that HIV or AIDS alone is enough to merit a disability listing.
In practical terms, of course, being a person with AIDS means you are vulnerable to a wide range of infections, exotic cancers, blindness, wasting syndrome, and other unique life-threatening risks. The Blue Book listing for AIDS reflects the complexity of HIV-related cases: although being HIV positive alone isn’t qualifying condition, a positive status along with any of dozens of complications will qualify you for SSDI benefits.
Some of the complications from AIDS are themselves so severe that you can get priority handling of your application through the Compassionate Allowances program. You don’t have to file extra paperwork to get Compassionate Allowances consideration, and if you’re approved you don’t get any extra money. What you do get is top priority in getting an answer about whether you qualify for benefits—and that can be very important when you are facing a life-threatening ailment.
Social Security Disability Insurance is a thorny puzzle of difficult and confusing rules. Making sure you provide the right evidence to show your medical condition entitles you to benefits is just one part of the job. Unfortunately, many SSDI applicants are simply in no shape to do a great job of convincing Social Security caseworkers to approve their benefits. The majority of applicants are told NO the first time they apply.
The good news is that SSDI applicants are allowed to choose an advocate to handle their cases—and that’s a job we have handled to the satisfaction of hundreds of people in Carlisle, Lebanon, Hershey, Mechanicsburg, and other central Pennsylvania communities. If you need a helping hand for getting your government disability benefits, call and speak to a Lancaster Social Security Disability lawyer from our law firm at (717) 888-8888 toll-free. Our disability attorneys will be glad to share our recent success stories and answer your questions during your FREE and confidential case review. As always, we stand behind this promise: we will send you no bill for legal services unless we are able to get a financial recovery for your claim.