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Can I get disability benefits for having hepatitis C?

Those born between 1945 and 1965 have a higher than normal risk for infection with the hepatitis C virus. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that all Americans born during that 20-year span get tested by their doctors to know their status.

With that in mind, many baby boomers who learn that they are infected with hepatitis C wonder whether that status qualifies them to receive disability benefits from Social Security. However, simply being diagnosed with the virus does not automatically mean that someone qualifies for disability based solely on this diagnosis.

If the hepatitis C virus has already caused significant damage to the liver, the patients may be diagnosed with chronic liver disease. Some may then qualify to receive disability benefits.

How does the Social Security Administration evaluate chronic liver disease?

Chronic liver disease is diagnosed when the liver is scarred, inflamed and/or dead cells and tissue are present. If the illness continues for 180 days or more, a diagnosis of chronic liver disease can be made.

The disease consists of a continuum of symptoms that will eventually be terminal. Some patients experience portal hypertension or have the flow of bile get blocked. Others proceed to develop cirrhosis and wind up with liver cancer.

Some signs of decreased liver function include ascites — accumulated fluid that distends the abdomen — hemorrhaged varices, encephalopathy and deteriorated liver function studies. Getting a transplanted liver is the only certain cure for end stage liver disease (ESLD).

If you are under the care of a gastroenterologist for your liver disease, he or she will be medically evaluating your condition and can track any alarming developments.

At some point your condition could worsen to the point where you are no longer able to work. At that point, you may indeed be able to file for Social Security disability benefits based on the progression of the chronic liver disease.

Source: Social Security Administration, "Disability Evaluation Under Social Security - 5.00 Digestive System - Adult," accessed Oct. 06, 2017

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