November 18, 2014

Years ago, when I was in college, I took a class on the effects of HIV/AIDS, including how it is prevented, transmitted and treated. At the time, it seemed simple to me: it was unlikely that anyone who struggled with this disease would be able to lead a normal life, let alone work full-time.

Fast-forwarding to the present day, a prospective client recently called and asked me, “I have AIDS. Won’t I automatically be approved for disability benefits?” Years ago, the answer may have been yes. But today, you may be surprised to learn that the answer is a resounding “no.”

While many people still struggle with the debilitating effects of HIV and AIDS, others have fewer symptoms, and still others show no effects of the disease at all. When it comes to Social Security Disability, you don’t receive benefits for the diagnosis, but only if your condition limits you from working, based on either Social Security’s complicated medical criteria, or based on your age, education and work experience.

Some effects of AIDS are real, but are hard to measure. For example, I have clients who experience severe fatigue, chronic diarrhea or skin disorders. Others are overwhelmingly depressed and angry, and don’t know where to turn. These symptoms don’t show up on a test, but they certainly can prevent a person from working full-time.

Recently, I represented a client at a hearing who had been diagnosed with full-blown AIDS years earlier. I won’t divulge his real name, but let’s call him John. John didn’t meet Social Security’s specific medical criteria for HIV or AIDS – in fact, few of my clients actually meet that specific criteria. John’s understandable difficulty in accepting his diagnosis meant that he failed to take his medication at first, and his condition slowly declined to the point where it was difficult to stabilize. He lost weight and was noticeably thin.

John was angry at his diagnosis and at the person who he believed transmitted the disease to him, and would take that anger out on others, including myself. He had been in jail as a result of lashing out at others, and had resorted to drugs to help him cope with the news that he had this devastating disease. John even missed a few of his hearing dates, causing the judge to initially throw out his case.

With our help, the judge took John’s case back, and began to understand his true story. We convinced the judge that even though John’s condition did not meet Social Security’s specific rules, that the effects of AIDS on his physical and mental well-being prevented him from working. He didn’t miss his earlier hearings because he didn’t care – he missed them because he had severe physical symptoms and he struggled with accepting his situation – the same reasons he would not maintain attendance at a full-time job. In the end, the judge approved John’s case, and he now has the financial assistance needed to sustain himself and treat his condition properly.

If you or someone you know is struggling with disabling effects of HIV or AIDS, at Nash Disability Law, we may be able to help you navigate the Social Security system and its complicated rules. Call us today