If you have been diagnosed with sickle cell anemia and the disease or your treatment regime keep you from working, you may be eligible for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA). Receiving disability not only means you receive monthly payments, but you also have access to free healthcare. In 2021, about 21,500 people received benefits for blood-related disorders like sickle cell.
Is sickle cell anemia considered a disability?
Yes, the SSA does consider sickle cell anemia as a disability and you can qualify for benefits if it keeps you from being able to work.
How the SSA defines sickle cell anemia
The general medical definition of sickle cell anemia is a blood disorder where the blood’s hemoglobin is abnormal. The abnormality causes the red blood cells to become rigid and take on a "C" shape or sickle, which is how it gets its name. The sickle cells get stuck which blocks proper blood flow, causing serious side effects such as pain and infections.
The SSA groups sickle cell anemia within other hematological disorders, which include any condition that disrupts the normal development and function of white blood cells, red blood cells, platelets, and blood clotting-factor proteins. It further specifies sickle cell as a hemolytic anemia that directly impacts red blood cell function.
Types of sickle cell anemia that qualify for disability
There are numerous types of sickle cell disease that can qualify for Social Security disability benefits. Some of the common forms of sickle cell disease include:
Criteria for getting disability with sickle cell anemia
To qualify for disability with sickle cell disease, you must meet specific criteria set by the SSA. Broadly speaking, you need medical evidence that clearly shows your sickle cell disease is severe enough to prevent you from working. The SSA will also look for proof that you’ve received treatment but your sickle cell disease still persists.
The SSA lists four main criteria for determining your eligibility with sickle cell disease. You may qualify if you meet or more of the following:
You have experienced and have documentation of vaso-occlusive crises that required medication. They must have occurred at least six times within a 12-month period, with 30 days or more between crises.
You’ve had at least three hospitalizations within a 12-month period — each at least 30 days apart — from complications of your sickle cell disease. Each hospitalization must have lasted at least 48 hours, which can include hours spent in an emergency room or in a comprehensive sickle cell disease center immediately before the hospitalization.
You’ve had hemoglobin measurements of 7.0 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or less, occurring at least three times within a 12-month period, with a minimum of 30 days between measurements.
You need life-long RBC transfusions at a frequency of least once every six weeks.
Sickle cell anemia is a complicated disease and the process to receive disability benefits can be equally tough to navigate. Hiring an experienced disability lawyer can help you work through this complexity and increase the likelihood of your claim getting approved. Read more on how a lawyer could help your disability claim.
Questions to ask yourself before you apply for benefits
If you can answer yes to all or most of the following questions, your sickle cell anemia is likely to qualify for disability benefits:
Do the medications I take impact my ability to carry out work activities?
Do I need assistance to perform my daily tasks at home and work?
Do I need red blood cell transfusions every six weeks?
Have I been hospitalized at least three times within the last 12 months?
My sickle cell disease meets the criteria. Now what?
The next step is to apply for disability benefits. And since it can take months or years to get approved, we recommend you apply as soon as you can. If you’re still unsure, here’s what we recommend:
You should apply for disability now if:
You have been diagnosed with sickle cell anemia AND
You’re no longer able to work OR
You’re hospitalized due to your sickle cell anemia
Consider waiting to apply later if:
You’ve never received treatment for your sickle cell anemia, or you just started receiving treatment
Probably don't apply if:
Your sickle cell anemia is manageable and doesn’t prevent you from holding a job OR
You haven’t yet stopped working, even if you worry that you’ll need to soon, especially if you’re earning more than about $1,400 per month
To get help with your application or at any stage in the process, we suggest speaking with a disability lawyer. They’ll be able to advise you on how to increase your chances of getting approved with sickle cell anemia. To get matched with an experienced lawyer for free, start with our 2-minute eligibility quiz. (Plus you only pay the lawyer if they help you get approved for benefits.)
SSDI offers the highest payments and is typically available if you’ve worked and paid taxes for at least five of the past 10 years. SSI is an income-based program and you can qualify if you have little or no work history.
How much are sickle cell anemia disability benefits?
For someone diagnosed with a disease of the blood, the average monthly Social Security disability check is $1,286.42 per month.
The SSA considers multiple factors when calculating your exact disability benefit payment, such as your work and income history. No matter your condition, the maximum disability payment is about $3,600 per month for SSDI and $914 per month for SSI in 2023.
What if my sickle cell anemia does not meet the criteria?
If you’re unsure whether your anemia satisfies the criteria above but you find it difficult or impossible to work, you should still consider applying for benefits. However, consider speaking with a professional. A disability lawyer can explain your chances of approval and help you fill out the application so it covers everything the SSA looks for.
It’s important to remember that applying for disability is challenging and takes a long time for almost everyone. Only 20% of applicants are approved for benefits after their first application. But after an appeals process, about 50% of people are approved. And your chances are three times higher if you work with a disability lawyer.
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