About 1 of every 400 Americans has cirrhosis. It involves scarring that permanently damages the liver and is the final stage of chronic liver disease. The number is likely higher because many people don’t know they have it until symptoms become severe, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Cirrhosis is a serious disease that blocks blood flow to the liver and can lead to liver failure. Though manageable, it can impact your ability to work. If you meet certain requirements, you may qualify for cirrhosis disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA).
We explain what you need to know before you apply below.
Is Cirrhosis a Disability?
The SSA uses the criteria in their Blue Book to determine if your condition is an eligible disability. In order to qualify for cirrhosis disability benefits, all the following must apply to you:
- Your condition lasts more than 12 months
- Poor health keeps you from earning a living
- A doctor can document your condition and treatment history
- Lab tests and imaging show evidence of disease and/or damage
If you meet the SSA’s definition of disability, you can receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
- SSDI pays when you have worked long enough, recently enough, and paid Social Security taxes on your job income.
- SSI pays when you have very low income and limited resources.
PRO TIP: Ask for a referral to a specialist like a hepatologist or gastroenterologist. Sometimes these doctors’ opinions carry more weight with the SSA than your primary care physician.
Does Alcoholic Cirrhosis Qualify for Disability Benefits?
Cirrhosis is often associated with alcoholism, a condition that can impact your eligibility. The SSA won’t automatically deny your claim because you have a history of drug abuse or alcoholism. But if you’re an active alcoholic, expect the SSA to ask you if you could start working again once you stopped drinking.
If the answer is yes, then they will likely deny your claim. But if your liver damage causes other health issues and you’re close to retirement age, the SSA may take that into consideration. Either way, it’s vital to include evidence of your sobriety and recovery-related treatments in the medical records you submit.
PRO TIP: Get more advice on applying for disability when you have a substance abuse issue.
Before they look at your medical information, you must show the SSA that you can’t work enough to earn a living. This is what the SSA calls “substantial gainful activity” (SGA). The SSA sets a maximum income amount for people applying for disability. If yours falls below this amount and/or you stop working completely, you may be able to receive cirrhosis disability benefits. For 2024, the monthly SGA is $1,550 (or $2,490 for people living with blindness).
PRO TIP: Check out the SSA’s eligibility tool to determine which program is best for you.
Next, you have 4 different ways you can apply for cirrhosis disability benefits:
- On the SSA website. Applying online is the fastest way to start the process, but takes just as long.
- By phone at 800-772-1213 or TTY 800-325-0778. Calling allows you to ask an SSA agent questions during the application process.
- At your local Social Security office. In-person appointments can take at least 4-5 hours, so come prepared.
- Through an attorney who charges nothing to file your claim, but greatly improves your chances to receive benefits in 6 months or less.
PRO TIP: Use this visualization to familiarize yourself with the Social Security disability application process.
In addition to your financial information, you must show medical evidence of your disability.
IMPORTANT: Gathering medical information takes a lot of time and costs money. Many people consult a skilled disability lawyer in order to reduce these burdens.
Here’s a summary of the requirements the SSA says that you must meet:
1. A complete history of your cirrhosis and liver disease
This includes your presenting symptoms (like itching, jaundice, enlarged liver, or spleen) and how the disease is progressing (getting worse, getting better, stable).
2. Test results
You need a lot of tests to make your case for disability benefits for cirrhosis, such as:
- A full liver (hepatic) panel
- Imaging like a liver MRI or abdominal CT scans, x-rays, and ultrasounds
- A coagulation study
3. Treatment regimen and response
You need to show how your doctor treated your cirrhosis so far and whether it’s working. This information includes:
- Medications you take and treatments you already tried, including how you responded
- Behavioral and lifestyle changes your doctor ordered
- Complications related to your disease, such as cardiac issues, hypertension, weakness and fatigue, or neurological and cognitive problems
- Operative notes and pathology reports for all procedures and surgeries related to your disease
4. Other medical records that support your cirrhosis disability claim
Some treatments you don’t think are related to your cirrhosis may be. If you received any of the following types of care, include these medical records in your application:
- Treatment for renal (kidney) failure
- Hospital admission for a blood transfusion of 2 or more units because of internal bleeding
- Decreased arterial oxygenation (paO2) on room air
- Fluid removed from your lungs or abdomen (i.e., paracentesis or thoracentesis)
- Peritonitis (a bacterial infection in your stomach) with a neutrophil count of at least 250 cells/mm3
- Mental and/or cognitive problems, such as delirium or confusion
You’re more likely to get cirrhosis disability payments if you have other health conditions that also limit your ability to work. Click the links below to learn more about getting Social Security disability benefits for:
IMPORTANT: Filing your claim through a Social Security attorney triples your chances for benefit approval. The SSA approves just 1 in 5 initial claims for benefits (20%), and most of them (18%) also have attorneys.
Sign up for a free phone call from an experienced lawyer who can answer your claim questions today. Since these attorneys work on contingency, you pay $0 if you don’t win. And if your application is successful, then you only owe one small fee after your back pay goes through.
Margot Lester is the CEO of The Word Factory, a B2B & B2C content marketing agency that provides services for Fortune 100 brands, healthtech companies and SaaS developers. An award-winning business and brand journalist, she writes for daily and weekly newspapers and business journals, national magazines, in-flight publications and leading websites. Margot is also an in-demand writing coach and organizational communications trainer, helping individuals and teams write more effectively. Twitter/X: @word_factory LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/margotlester.