You Can Get Disability for Ulcerative Colitis. Here’s How.
September 14, 2022 · 3 min read
In 2021, the SSA awarded 61,550 workers disability benefits for digestive disorders like ulcerative colitis. If your ulcerative colitis is so severe it limits your ability to work, it can qualify you for monthly disability and healthcare payments through the Social Security Administration (SSA).
To help you qualify, we’ll explain how the SSA evaluates conditions like ulcerative colitis, when it qualifies for a disability, and how you can get benefits for ulcerative colitis.
Is ulcerative colitis a disability?
Yes, the Social Security Administration does consider ulcerative colitis as a disability that qualifies for disability and healthcare benefits if it interferes with your ability to work.
How the SSA defines ulcerative colitis
Ulcerative colitis is a kind of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) — like Crohn’s — though it specifically affects the colon (large intestine) and rectum. Common symptoms for ulcerative colitis include diarrhea (possibly mixed with blood), loss of bowel control, an urgency to defecate, rectal bleeding, abdominal cramping and pain, involuntary weight loss, and secondary conditions such as anemia or malnutrition.
Common types of ulcerative colitis
There are four common types of ulcerative colitis. Though several of them share symptoms, they all impact different areas within the colon and rectum. These include:
Can you get disability for ulcerative colitis?
If you have ulcerative colitis and your symptoms make it impossible for you to work, it is possible to qualify for Social Security disability. You’re more likely if you’re already seeing a gastroenterologist and your symptoms persist despite treatment.
Before you can receive benefits payments, you’ll have to show the SSA that your ulcerative colitis meets their strict criteria. You can also increase your odds of approval by working with a disability lawyer.
Criteria for getting disability with ulcerative colitis
Ulcerative colitis can be painful and debilitating but unfortunately, experiencing symptoms isn’t enough to qualify for Social Security disability benefits. You’ll have to prove the severity and ongoing nature of your symptoms by meeting one or both of the following two criteria:
1. Your ulcerative colitis may qualify for disability if you have experienced the following and it’s documented by endoscopy, biopsy, medical imaging, or an operation:
You’ve had an obstruction of the small intestine or colon AND
You needed hospitalization for intestinal decompression or for surgery AND
This has happened at least two times, with each time occurring at least 60 days apart and within a consecutive six-month period.
2. You’ve experienced at least two of the following in a consecutive six-month period despite continuing to receive treatment:
Low serum albumin (hypoalbuminemia)
Clinically-documented abdominal mass, causing pain or cramping that doesn’t respond to your prescribed medication
Perineal disease with a draining abscess or fistula
Involuntary weight loss of at least 10% of your baseline weight
Need for supplemental nutrition
Your ulcerative colitis is likely extreme enough to be classified as a disability by the SSA if you experience any or all of the above symptoms.
Some questions to ask yourself before applying
Have you been hospitalized more than once because of blockages in your intestines or colon?
Have you lost weight very quickly?
Do you struggle to control your bowels?
Have you missed work or taken a lot of breaks because you need to use the bathroom or are in pain?
My ulcerative colitis meets the criteria. Now what?
If your ulcerative colitis meets the SSA’s criteria, you can apply as soon as you’re ready and you have all the required documentation in-hand. You can still apply if you’re unsure whether or not your colitis will qualify, but applying is time-consuming, and it may only be worth applying if your odds of approval are good. Here’s our advice:
Apply now if
You’ve been diagnosed with colitis AND
Your symptoms make it impossible to work AND
You are seeing a gastroenterologist or other specialist AND
Your doctor thinks your condition will not improve for least a year
Consider waiting and applying later if
You’ve been diagnosed with colitis, but your doctor is hopeful that you will get it under control within a year OR
You haven’t yet stopped working (even if you worry you’ll need to soon)
Probably don't apply if
Your colitis isn’t stopping you from working (even if it’s difficult to live with) OR
You're working (earning more than about $1,400 per month) and don't plan to stop
You can also take our 2-minute disability quiz to determine whether or not you qualify before you start your application. If you do qualify, we can connect you with an experienced lawyer who can help increase your odds of approval. (You won’t have to pay your lawyer until you get approved for disability benefits.)
Which type of benefits should you apply for?
Proving the seriousness of your colitis is important, but so is applying for the right program for your situation. The SSA offers two types of benefits. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) typically supports people who’ve worked at least five of the last ten years, while Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is designed for people who don’t have much work history and have little to no monthly income.
It’s also possible to apply for SSDI and SSI at the same time. Both programs use the same application, so you can try for both and the SSA will check whether you qualify for one or both.
How much is a disability check for ulcerative colitis?
The average disability check for people with ulcerative colitis and other digestive diseases is $1,422.62 per month.
Your actual monthly payment depends on your unique situation. In particular, the amount of your disability benefit check depends on your work and income history. Regardless of how acute your ulcerative colitis is, the maximum monthly SSDI benefit is $3,627 and the maximum monthly SSI benefit is $914 in 2023.
What if my ulcerative colitis doesn’t meet the criteria?
You can still apply even if your ulcerative colitis doesn’t meet all the criteria. It may still be worth applying if you believe that you can prove that your condition limits your ability to work.
Even if you do meet all the criteria and your symptoms are advanced, qualifying for disability can be challenging. But don’t give up even if you get denied the first time! Only 20% of people who apply for disability benefits win their claim on their first application. If you get denied, you’ll have an opportunity to appeal in front of a judge, and your chances of approval go up — nearly half of applicants get approved at this stage.
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