A reader wrote in with this question: “Does oxygen therapy qualify a person for disability benefits? I am on supplemental oxygen at home.”
This leads to other questions, such as: Why is this reader on supplemental oxygen? The most likely reason is a serious respiratory illness, like lung cancer.
Here’s our answer: At-home oxygen therapy isn’t enough to get you monthly disability benefits. This is because other factors come into play, like your work history and whether you get other Social Security benefits. However, if your medical condition forces you to stop working for 12 months, then yes, you may qualify for disability.
Who Usually Needs Supplemental Oxygen Therapy?
We all need oxygen to survive. Oxygen is a gas, and it’s in the air we all breathe. A person with healthy lungs gets enough oxygen just by breathing — an act that we all do, every minute of every day, without even thinking about it.
People who cannot get enough oxygen on their own when they breathe often need an extra boost. But more than one condition can cause this issue, and some are more serious than a temporary illness.
A few of these conditions include:
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- Heart failure
- Cystic fibrosis
- Chronic bronchitis
- Sleep apnea
- Lung disease
Symptoms of compromised lung conditions that may benefit from using supplemental oxygen at home include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Rapid breathing
- Mucus buildup
How the SSA Evaluates Disability Claims for Breathing Problems
Step 1: Are You Still Working and Earning Money?
The first thing the SSA checks is whether you’re still working and earning job wages. In 2023, you cannot qualify for disability benefits if you make more than $1,470 per month.
Since you must prove your health stops you from working for 12+ months, this is the first thing they’ll check. However, if you haven’t worked at all in more than 5 years, then you also cannot qualify. Why? Because you won’t have enough Social Security work credits.
Step 2: Which Condition Do You Treat with Supplemental Oxygen Therapy?
You can’t start supplemental oxygen treatments at home without an official diagnosis from your doctor. This usually means you have a disease that affects your lungs and their ability to take in enough oxygen without assistance.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates diseases that both obstruct and restrict your normal lung capacity. So, the SSA will evaluate your symptoms and how much they limit your daily activities.
To do that, the SSA requires specific paperwork in the form of medical evidence that supports your claim. Examples that may fit this description include:
- Your medical history
- Doctor’s exam notes
- Test results from the past year, including blood labs, lung capacity tests, or biopsies
- Imaging scans of your lungs (i.e., x-rays, CT scans, or MRIs)
- Outcomes from prescribed therapies, like current medications, physical therapy, etc.
Step 3: Is Your Medical Condition in the SSA’s Blue Book?
Without knowing which condition your supplemental oxygen treats, it’s hard to know whether it’s listed in the SSA’s Blue Book. However, the agency does make its Blue Book of disabling conditions and their evaluation criteria available to the public online. The SSA evaluates each respiratory illness, injury, or disease with a specific set of criteria.
If your condition isn’t listed in the Blue Book section linked above, try not to feel stressed. Many people qualify for disability based on how much their health issues impact daily living activities.
Step 4: If You Can’t Manage Your Last Job, Can You Do Any Other Work?
The SSA will also evaluate how your health limits your ability to work. If your condition affects you in the following ways, then the SSA may award you benefits:
- Supplemental oxygen use limits your mobility (for example: Can you stand or walk for 40 hours each week? How often do you need to sit down, take breaks or rest?)
- You cannot tolerate certain unavoidable work conditions (i.e., heat, cold, wind, rain) while on portable oxygen
- You cannot perform basic tasks without help, like picking a pencil up off the floor
But before they approve or deny your claim, the SSA will see if you can do other, similar jobs.
For example: If you’re a customer service representative, supplemental oxygen could interfere with your ability to speak on the phone. Would your manager let you respond to customer complaints via email or online chat instead? If not, is there another company nearby that would hire you to do that — perhaps even from home? Keep all these things in mind when you apply.
Step 5: Do You Already Get Some Social Security Benefits Each Month?
Another important thing to note: You cannot get disability payments if you currently receive other Social Security benefits. By this, we mean any of the following:
We know this is a lot to process. That’s why we suggest talking to an attorney for free before filing for disability.
How Supplemental Oxygen Patients Can Get Free Expert Claim Help
Only an expert knows how to navigate the SSA’s rules when it comes to getting benefits. While it can technically happen without the help of a lawyer, filing that way can result in an initial denial.
Remember that it’s always free to consult an attorney. The lawyer who calls you can also determine if you’ll qualify for benefits before you apply. Best of all, working with an attorney can triple your odds of getting benefits vs. filing on your own!
Want to talk to a claims expert for free before you file? Click the button below to start your free online benefits quiz and see if you may qualify:
Lisa Allen is a writer and editor who lives in suburban Kansas City. She holds MFAs in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry, both from the Solstice Low-Residency Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. Prior to becoming a writer, Lisa worked as a paralegal, where she specialized in real estate in and around Chicago.