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Obesity and Disability Benefits

Obesity is caused by an excessive accumulation of body fat. According to leading health experts, obesity occurs if the BMI or body mass index of an individual is over 30. Morbid obesity occurs if an individual is 100 pounds more than “normal weight” and their BMI is greater than 40.

Obesity is caused by a variety of factors including behavior, genetics and environment. Prior to 1999, the Social Security Administration had a specific listing for disability but deleted the listing in 1999, claiming that obese claimants now have the ability to perform substantial gainful activity (SGA).

What does this mean for the obese claimant? Obesity alone will not be enough to prove that the claimant is disabled and unable to work. The Social Security Administration does, however, recognize that morbid obesity can impair a claimant and will consider the impact of obesity as an aggravating factor for other medical listings. Some listings in the SSA Listing of Impairments for example, have explanations outlining how obesity can exacerbate the condition.

The Social Security Administration also recognizes that if a claimant has a condition such as musculoskeletal disorders, lack of pulmonary function, diabetes or arthritis if the claimant is also disabled this will reduce their residual functional capacity to work.

SSR 02-01p states “individuals with obesity may have problems with the ability to sustain a function over time” further “[i]n cases involving obesity, fatigue may affect the individual’s physical and mental ability to sustain work activity.”

Claimants who are morbidly obese and can prove that they have difficulty maintaining their normal daily activities such as bathing, walking, and/or driving a car may also be able to prove that they have little capacity to maintain full-time employment.

Winning disability benefits for Morbid Obesity

The Social Security Administration has two methods they use to determine whether a claimant qualifies for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Claimants can either “meet a listing” or they can prove through the medical vocational allowance process that they cannot work. As mentioned above, because morbid obesity is not considered a listed condition, claimants will not be able to “meet a listing.”

Winning disability benefits through a medical vocational allowance

When a claimant applies for disability, the Social Security Administration evaluates the disability case using a very detailed set of rules referred to as medical-vocational guidelines. These rules are designed to help Social Security employees, no matter where they are located, evaluate every disability case “objectively” using the same set of standards.

The SSA will evaluate a claimant’s current job and past jobs, along with the claimant’s residual capacity to work to determine if a claimant can perform sedentary work (sitting for up to 6 hours in an 8 hour day, and lift up to 10 pounds), light work (standing and walking for up to 6 hours in an 8 hour day, frequently lifting 10 pounds and lifting 20 pounds occasionally) or medium work (standing and walking for up to 6 hours in an 8 hour day, lifting 25 pounds frequently and 50 pounds occasionally).

After the disability examiner determines the residual capacity of the claimant they will also factor in their age, education and previous work experience. Based on these factors and the GRID rules, the SSA makes their determination. Keep in mind, the older the claimant the greater chance they will be found disabled.
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