Leg bruising from Calciphylaxis

Boston Disability Attorney Discusses How Calciphylaxis Patients May Be Eligible to Receive Social Security Benefits

People facing the debilitating effects of calciphylaxis may benefit from the financial relief of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The Social Security Administration (SSA) may expedite SSDI applications with its Compassionate Allowances (CAL) program. For people with severe medical conditions like calciphylaxis, this can fast-track benefit payments to cover treatment and living expenses. Applying for SSDI with calciphylaxis may seem daunting at first, but a skilled Boston disability lawyer can provide clarity and guidance throughout the process.

Calciphylaxis Is a Rare Medical Condition

Affecting approximately 0.35% of patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) on chronic hemodialysis, calciphylaxis is an exceedingly rare medical condition. Also called calcific uremic arteriolopathy and uremic gangrene syndrome, the uncommon metabolic disease has no known cause. 

It most commonly affects patients who are on dialysis or have had a kidney transplant, but this rare disease can afflict people with normal kidney function, too. Caliphylaxis is characterized by calcium buildup in the walls of blood vessels, particularly in fat and skin tissue. Obstructing blood flow, causing blood clots, and depriving the cells of oxygen and nutrients, this condition can cause serious organ damage. Calciphylaxis patients with normal kidney function may also have autoimmune disorders, cancer, or inflammatory bowel disease. 

Typical Calciphylaxis Symptoms 

The outward visibility of calciphylaxis may manifest like certain skin disorders. Patients experience infected sores on the skin that can be incredibly painful. Some of the most common symptoms and signs of calciphylaxis include:

  • Painful skin ulcers, creating open sores with a brown-black crust, often in areas with higher fat content like the stomach and thigh
  • Purple, net-like patterns on the skin
  • Skin lesions that are prone to blistering and superimposed infections that do not heal normally
  • Blood clots
  • Skin necrosis, or the death of skin tissue, due to restricted blood flow
  • Kidney failure and other forms of kidney disease 
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Chronic pain and cramps
  • Weakness in the muscles
  • Vascular calcification in muscles, brain, lungs, intestines, and mesentery 
  • Vision problems

As people with calciphylaxis are often also undergoing hemodialysis and/or peritoneal dialysis, their prognosis often aligns with other end-stage renal disease patients. They most commonly die from cardiovascular disease. Of those who do survive, they can experience other impairments and challenges, including limb amputation, stroke, and chronic pain. 

Causes and Risk Factors for Calciphylaxis

Researchers have not yet conclusively identified the exact cause of calciphylaxis. Scientific studies have, however, found several factors that correlate with the incidence of calciphylaxis. Along with comorbidity with end-stage renal disease, scientists have observed other risk factors for developing calciphylaxis.

  • Women are twice as likely as men to get calciphylaxis. 
  • Calciphylaxis is more common among white than non-white populations. 
  • Calciphylaxis most commonly develops in middle-aged patients in their 40s.
  • Obesity and diabetes are linked to increased risk. 
  • Abnormal blood clotting factors, creating more small blood clots than usual, may lead to developing calciphylaxis. 
  • An imbalance in how the body metabolizes calcium can lead to increased calcium deposits in small arteries. 
  • Uremia may cause increased calcium buildup in the body. 
  • People who’ve had a kidney transplant are at greater risk of developing calciphylaxis.
  • Elevated serum phosphorus and reduced serum albumin are associated with calciphylaxis.

Impact on Substantial Gainful Activity

One of the most important requirements to qualify for Social Security disability benefits is substantial gainful activity (SGA). The SSA defines SGA as the maximum income applicants can earn while receiving SSDI. For 2024, the monthly SGA limit for most people is $1,550. Blind individuals may earn up to $2,590.

This means SSDI recipients can work a little while filing for and receiving disability payments. Patients with calciphylaxis may find they are unable to sustain full-time employment due to their disability. But, they may be able to work a different job at reduced hours to supplement their income.

The many symptoms of calciphylaxis may prevent SSDI applicants from engaging in substantial gainful employment. Chronic pain and fatigue can be sufficiently debilitating to stop people from working a full eight-hour shift. Multiple skin lesions and infections can limit mobility or create potential safety hazards in some workplaces. As there is no known cure and the condition is often fatal, calciphylaxis patients may be unable to work altogether. 

Qualifying for Disability Insurance Benefits With Calciphylaxis

The way that many applicants qualify for disability benefits is with a listing in the SSA’s Blue Book. Each Blue Book listing describes a specific medical condition and outlines qualifying criteria, including diagnostic test results. 

At this time, calciphylaxis is not a Blue Book listed condition. Its Compassionate Allowances listing, though, indicates that it can meet other Blue Book listings:

  • 6.03: Chronic kidney disease with chronic hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis
  • 6.04: Chronic kidney disease with kidney transplant
  • 6.09: Complications of chronic kidney disease

It may also equal Blue Book Listing 8.04 for chronic infections of the skin if the skin lesions persist for at least three months. 

SSDI Compassionate Allowance for Calciphylaxis

The Social Security Administration added calciphylaxis to its Compassionate Allowances list in August 2023. This is part of Social Security’s Program Operations Manual System (POMS). The listing describes the condition, offering information about diagnostic testing, physical signs and symptoms, progression, and treatment. 

Through the Compassionate Allowances (CAL) program, the SSA may expedite SSDI requests, process and approve the SSDI claim more quickly, and fast-track the payment schedule so applicants may start to receive benefit payments sooner. The SSA believes applicants who qualify for a Compassionate Allowance have an obviously debilitating medical condition. 

Part of the understanding here is that calciphylaxis is fatal in many patients. The reported one-year mortality rate is 45% to 80%. Response to therapy is generally poor. Under regular circumstances, the SSA may take up to eight months to make an initial decision on your SSDI application. It can take even longer if the application must undergo an appeals process, which can often be the case. 

The unfortunate reality is calciphylaxis patients may not have that long to wait, even if they receive back payments upon approval. The need for financial assistance through Social Security is usually much more dire and urgent than that. With the Compassionate Allowances program, by contrast, the SSA may review the application in as little as ten days. 

Prepare Your SSDI Application With Confidence

The reality is that the Social Security Administration denies the majority of SSDI claims the first time around. They may cite a lack of medical evidence or a non-technical error. To avoid some of these common mistakes, it is helpful to turn to a skilled SSD lawyer in Massachusetts. The legal team at Keefe Disability Law has years of experience preparing SSDI applications for our clients.

Applying for SSDI can be confusing. Allow us to answer any questions you may have and provide clarity over the process. In cases involving calciphylaxis, time can be of the essence. Our seasoned disability attorneys can explain what you need to know about the SSA’s Compassionate Allowances Program and how it applies to your specific case. 

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your Social Security application may call for different types of medical evidence. You may need to supply doctor’s notes and copies of diagnostic test results. It may be beneficial to complete a residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment for SSDI, or it may not be necessary. It’s typically better to provide more evidence rather than less. We can guide you through these options to present the strongest case possible to the SSA. 

When you are already feeling overwhelmed and exhausted from a debilitating condition like calciphylaxis, you may not have the energy to focus on the particulars of your SSDI claim. Your application is in good hands when you trust the Boston disability lawyers at Keefe Disability Law. 

Patrick Hartwig
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Managing Attorney, Keefe Disability Law