Behcet’s Disease and Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits

SSDI for Behcet's Disease

The Complex Eligibility of Behcet’s Disease for SSDI Benefits

Behcet’s disease can pose unique challenges in navigating daily life, including impairments that may prevent viable employment. Characterized by inflammation of blood vessels, the rare autoimmune disease can manifest in myriad ways. Applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits with this condition demands careful attention to detail. Enlisting the expertise of an experienced SSDI lawyer can be pivotal. The talented legal team at Keefe Disability Law can guide you through this complex process and improve the likelihood of approval by the Social Security Administration (SSA). 

What Is Behcet’s Disease?

Named after Turkish dermatologist Hulusi Behcet, Behcet’s disease is defined by inflammation of blood vessels throughout the body. Because it can impact different parts of the body, signs of Behcet’s disease can vary from person to person. Some cases of Behcet’s are more severe than others. Symptoms can come and go over time. This wide variability has led some medical experts to prefer the term Behcet’s syndrome instead. Symptoms of the condition may seem unrelated at first. They can lead to serious complications, including blindness and even death. 

Behcet’s Syndrome Symptoms

The type, duration, and severity of symptoms displayed by people with Behcet’s disease cover a wide range. Any organ system can be involved. There is no specific test for Behcet’s syndrome, so diagnosis is made on clinical grounds. Behcet’s syndrome symptoms may include:

  • Inflammation in the arteries and veins can cause blood clots, redness, swelling, and more severe complications like aneurysms. 
  • Oral lesions that look like canker sores can worsen into painful ulcers that can affect the ability to speak. 
  • Genital lesions can be red, open, painful, and leave scars. 
  • Skin lesions can develop, from acne-like sores to tender nodules, particularly on the lower legs. 
  • Inflammation in the eyes can cause ocular pain, redness, and visual impairment.
  • Joint swelling and arthritis in the knees, ankles, elbows, and wrists can cause pain and impact mobility. 
  • Gastrointestinal lesions and inflammation can manifest as diarrhea, bleeding, and abdominal pain. 
  • Inflammation of the lungs can cause coughing, shortness of breath, and potential hemorrhage from aneurysms. 
  • Inflammation in the nervous system and brain can lead to headaches, fever, disorientation, and other symptoms. 
  • In rare cases, people with Behcet’s disease may also suffer from cardiac or renal disease. 

Causes of Behcet’s Disease

Experts believe that Behcet’s disease may be an autoimmune disorder. The body’s immune system attacks healthy cells by mistake. This causes vasculitis, which is an inflammation of the blood vessels. Research has revealed specific genes associated with Behcet’s. People with these genes exposed to certain viruses or bacteria may trigger Behcet’s syndrome. There is no known cure. 

Prevalence and Risk Factors

Risk factors associated with Behcet’s disease include:

  • Young people in their late 20s and early 30s
  • People from Turkey, Iran, Japan, Korea, and China
  • Higher prevalence among women in Western countries
  • Greater severity among men with Behcet’s syndrome
  • Identified genes associated with Behcet’s disease risk

Behcet’s Disease Can Affect Substantial Gainful Activity

If the symptoms experienced by someone with Behcet’s disease are severe enough, they may be unable to work. One of the main non-medical requirements for SSDI is not to exceed the limits on substantial gainful activity (SGA). In 2024, the SGA limit for most applicants is $1,550 per month. For statutorily blind individuals, the monthly SGA cap is $2,590.

Functional Disability, Fatigue, and Pain

Scientific evidence supports the notion that Behcet’s disease can be sufficiently debilitating to prevent a person from working. Dr. Nicole M. Adler and her team at the New York Hospital for Joint Diseases published a paper in Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology. In it, the researchers concluded that Behcet’s patients have high levels of self-reported “functional disability, fatigue, and pain.” 

Unable to Work Due to Behcet’s Syndrome

A study published in BMJ’s Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases echoes these findings. Disability among Behcet’s patients is high, causing many of them to give up or change their work. Of the patients not working, four-fifths were working before their diagnosis. The top-cited reason for stopping work was oral ulcerations affecting speech, followed by fatigue. 

Treatments for Behcet’s Disease

With no known cure, treating Behcet’s disease is about managing symptoms. Medication can help reduce pain and inflammation in milder cases. Prescriptions may include topical corticosteroids, mouth rinses, eye drops, and other anti-inflammatories. It depends on how Behcet’s syndrome presents in the patient. 

How to Qualify for Disability Benefits

To receive Social Security disability payments, the medical condition must be expected to last at least 12 months or result in death. The SSA requires medical evidence to support your SSDI claim.

In some cases, this may involve medical imaging, like MRIs and X-rays. In other cases, you may need blood tests and other lab tests to qualify for disability benefits. One diagnostic tool for Behcet’s disease is a pathergy test. A doctor inserts a sterile needle and examines the area in a couple of days. Small red bumps are a sign of an overactive immune system, which could indicate Behcet’s syndrome.

SSA Blue Book Listing for Behcet’s Disease

The Social Security Administration (SSA) maintains a Blue Book listing of qualifying conditions for SSDI. It outlines specific medical criteria for each of these conditions. A generic diagnosis is typically not enough. Due to its rareness, the SSA does not have a dedicated Blue Book listing for Behcet’s disease. People with the condition may still qualify for disability benefits in other ways, though. 

Meeting Related Blue Book Listings

One way that Behcet’s disease patients may be eligible for SSDI is to meet other listings in the SSA Blue Book. With its wide range of symptoms, Behcet’s patients may have comorbidities or qualify for other diagnoses. Inflammatory arthritis is a notable example. 

The SSA Blue Book describes its specific criteria for inflammatory arthritis under Section 14.00 for adult immune system disorders. More specifically, Section 14.09 for inflammatory arthritis states that the applicant must have “persistent inflammation or persistent deformity of one or more major peripheral joints in a lower extremity.” 

Other diagnostic criteria under this listing include:

  • A documented medical need for a walker, bilateral canes, or bilateral crutches
  • An inability to use one upper extremity to independently initiate, sustain, and complete work-related activities involving fine and gross movements 
  • Constitutional symptoms like severe fatigue, fever, malaise, or involuntary weight loss
  • Limitation of activities of daily living, social functioning, or completing tasks in a timely manner due to deficiencies in concentration, persistence, or pace

Patients who experience other Behcet’s symptoms may qualify under other listings. Section 2.00 of the Blue Book covers visual impairment and difficulties with speech, for instance. Section 5.00 covers digestive disorders, including issues with the gastrointestinal tract. 

Medical Vocational Allowance Through RFC Assessment

In many cases, the combined impact of Behcet’s disease symptoms leads patients to apply for SSDI benefits. They may not meet any single Blue Book listing, but they may qualify as disabled under a more holistic view of their health and well-being. The SSA accounts for such cases with a residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment. 

SSDI applicants can ask their doctor to fill out an RFC evaluation. It looks at the totality of physical and mental impairments, paying special attention to their impact on performing substantial gainful activity. The doctor explains why the applicant is unable to work. A comprehensive RFC report and other medical evidence can greatly bolster an SSDI application. 

Improving Your Chances of SSDI Approval

Even seemingly straightforward disability applications can benefit from turning to a skilled SSDI lawyer. The startling truth is that the SSA initially denies the majority of SSDI applications. An experienced disability lawyer can avoid common mistakes and ensure everything is completed correctly.

If you have Behcet’s disease, applying for Social Security disability can be complex. The rarity of the autoimmune disease underscores the importance of building the strongest case possible for SSDI approval. The qualified SSD lawyers at Keefe Disability Law will help you every step of the way.

Patrick Hartwig
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Managing Attorney, Keefe Disability Law