Depending on the severity of your symptoms, the Social Security Administration (SSA) may consider asthma a disability. This means you might qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). You might also qualify for work accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
How much are SSDI benefits for asthma?
The average monthly SSDI benefit for disabled workers was $1,486.83 as of August 2023.
To determine a person’s monthly SSDI benefits, the Social Security Administration uses a fairly complicated calculation based on the person’s past earnings.
SSDI applicants also usually need 40 work credits (20 of which must have been earned in the 10 years before the disability began) to qualify for benefits. The amount needed to earn a work credit changes every year. In 2023, workers earn one credit for each $1,640 in wages or self-employment income.
What types of asthma qualify for disability?
Because asthma can have several symptoms, “when evaluating asthma, SSA does categorize the disability with a broad use of the word,” says Amanda Bonnesen, managing partner at Berger and Green law firm in Pittsburgh.
“Being diagnosed with asthma does not automatically render an individual disabled,” Bonnesen says. “The condition must impair their ability to work and function, despite all medical options and care.”
The SSA Blue Book provides general terms for what’s covered, but separate medical diagnoses you might see in your medical records that could be covered include allergic asthma, Aspirin-exacerbated respiratory disease (AERD), cough-variant asthma, exercise-induced asthma, nighttime asthma, steroid-resistant asthma and occupational asthma, Bonnesen says.
Jennifer Cronenberg, who is senior counsel and director of legal information with the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives, says the SSA will likely consider any form of asthma that prevents an individual from full-time work.
“Some considerations that might come into play are [when asthma causes] time off task, absences, unscheduled breaks, intolerance to dust, fumes and odors and limited stamina,” she says. “While one limitation might not knock out all work, a combination of limitations might leave a person with such limited residual functional capacity that they are unable to perform any competitive, substantially gainful full-time work activity.”
You’ll need several things on hand when filling out your SSDI application, including:
Your work history, including employer names, dates of employment, a list of previous jobs and information about workers compensation benefits you’ve received.
Medical records, lab and test results and information about your medications.
Contact information for your doctors, care providers and their offices, as well as the dates of your visits.
Information about family members who might qualify for benefits.
The SSA first determines if the application meets some basic requirements for benefits. Then it forwards the case to the Disability Determinations Services office in the applicant’s state. At that point, an adjuster and state physicians make the decision to approve the application.
During that time, you’ll be asked to fill out additional forms regarding your work history and daily functioning. “These forms are imperative, as it is your way to communicate with your adjudicator about your symptoms and daily struggles,” Bonnesen says. You may even be required to undergo an independent medical evaluation.
You can appeal if the SSA denies your application. When that occurs, “the case is transferred to a different adjudicator, and a new and independent decision is made on the previous medical evidence and any new medical evidence provided,” Bonnesen says.
If the SSA denies your appeal, you can hire an attorney and ask for a hearing before an administrative law judge. If you disagree with the judge’s decision, you can request a review from the Social Security Appeals Council. The final option is federal court.
Work accommodations for asthma
People with respiratory impairments can consult the Job Accommodation Network, which is a service of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, for examples of workplace accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Examples include:
Providing air conditioning, heat and dehumidification as needed, as well as a smoke- and fragrance-free environment.
Additional rest breaks for fresh air or to take medications as necessary.
Alternative work arrangements during certain periods, such as when construction is taking place in the office and it’s causing breathing issues.
Removing the need to use stairs or walk long distances to get to your desk.
How likely is it that the SSA will approve my SSDI application?
“The SSDI process can last up to three years before a favorable decision is made,” Bonnesen says. “It’s impossible to provide a likelihood of approval rate, since humans are on the other side of the decision.”
Statistics show, though, that the SSA denies the majority of disability claims it receives. To set up your case with the best odds, Bonnesen recommends two things.
Maintain care. Refraining from all drug, alcohol and cigarette use during the process and remaining in medical treatment can help, Bonnesen says. For example, establishing care with specialists such as pulmonologists and allergists, undergoing all necessary testing and remaining compliant with all prescribed medications can help improve your odds.
Track your condition. Cronenberg recommends keeping a symptom journal that details things such as how often you use rescue inhalers, how often you have to take breaks after performing simple household tasks, how long those breaks last and if you have to take additional breathing treatments.