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Is Crohn’s Disease a Disability?


Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are often considered “invisible disabilities,” but they can have profound effects on your life. It can be impossible to work when you need unscheduled restroom breaks and live with chronic pain—not to mention the stress of living with other effects of the disease, like malnutrition and other serious symptoms.

If you have Crohn’s disease and are considering filing for long-term disability insurance benefits, the attorneys at Bryant Legal Group are here to help. We guide professionals throughout Chicago, Illinois, and the rest of the country through their complex disability insurance claims.

In this article, we explore long-term disability claims involving Crohn’s disease and suggest ways you can strengthen your case from day one.

What Is Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn’s disease is a type of chronic inflammatory bowel disease. About 3 million people in the United States live with Crohn’s disease. The disease causes your immune system to overreact and attack healthy tissues in your gastrointestinal tract, including your small bowel (ileum) and colon. Often, the disease affects the entire thickness of the bowel wall, causing severe pain and cramping.

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease can include:

  • Chronic diarrhea and bowel urgency
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Bloody stools and rectal bleeding
  • Strictures, or narrowing of your intestine
  • Fistulas, or ulcers that go through the entire bowel wall
  • Fissures
  • Mouth sores
  • Swollen, painful joints

The severity of Crohn’s disease symptoms varies widely from person to person. For some, the disease is a relatively minor inconvenience, with occasional pain and cramping, fatigue, and diarrhea. For others, Crohn’s disease profoundly affects their lives, causing malnutrition, anemia, and bowel obstructions.

What Is the Treatment for Crohn’s Disease?

Currently, there is no cure for Crohn’s disease. And because people with the disease can have very different symptoms, there is not a standard treatment protocol, either. Instead, your doctor and gastroenterologist will build a treatment plan that targets your specific issues and symptoms.

Depending on your circumstances, your treatment plan might include medications, surgeries, and dietary changes. Some treatment options, especially biological therapies, require regular visits to a medical center for infusions. Others, including some immunomodulators, can result in serious side effects like nausea, vomiting, and even liver damage.

What Is the Difference Between Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis (UC) is another type of IBD (inflammatory bowel disease). Unlike Crohn’s disease, UC affects only a limited amount of the gastrointestinal tract, typically the colon and rectum, and harms only the inner lining of your intestines. Bloody stools, fatigue, abdominal pain, and bowel urgency are common symptoms of ulcerative colitis.

Although UC only affects a limited section of the gastrointestinal tract, it causes continuous inflammation along that section—unlike with Crohn’s disease, where there may be areas of healthy tissue mixed in between inflamed spots. UC causes a more continuous inflammation that spans the entire tract.

Working With Crohn’s Disease

It can be tricky to maintain employment when you live with Crohn’s disease, especially if you are prone to flares.

According to a 2020 study published in the Journal of Medical Economics, the average Crohn’s patient misses about 9.5 days each year due to the disease. However, people with severe cases can miss a lot more time at work—especially if they require inpatient care or invasive surgery.

If your employer provides enough accommodations for you to keep doing your job, like the ability to take frequent, unscheduled restroom breaks or work from home as needed, we encourage you to continue working. But over time, many people cannot maintain their jobs due to Crohn’s as the disease progresses and ADA accommodations are no longer sufficient. In these cases, applying for disability insurance benefits can help offset your lost income.

Can I Get Long-Term Disability Benefits for Crohn’s Disease or Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Sometimes, Crohn’s disease can make you eligible for disability insurance benefits. During a short-lived flare, you might qualify for short-term disability benefits, which typically cover leaves of absence that are under a year. However, if you are facing a more prolonged issue, you might qualify for LTD (long-term disability) benefits.

Before you apply for long-term disability insurance benefits, you should carefully review your policy. The terms, conditions, and definition of disability in your policy will impact your eligibility for monthly LTD benefits.

Most policies define disability in one of two ways:

  • Own occupation: If you cannot perform your current job, you are eligible for long-term disability benefits.
  • Any occupation: You are disabled if you cannot perform any type of full-time work, including the simplest, lightest jobs.

While most LTD policies, especially employer-sponsored ones, use the more restrictive “any occupation” definition, some policies – especially policies purchased privately – do apply the “own occupation” standard. (Note that some “own occupation” policies transition to the “any occupation definition after two years.)

If you need help translating all the waiting periods, terminology, and procedures outlined in your insurance policy, our team can help. Contact our office and schedule a consultation today.

Can I Get Social Security Disability Benefits for Crohn’s Disease?

Before we continue, an important caveat: Bryant Legal Group does not handle standalone Social Security Administration (SSA) disability claims. We represent professionals in disputes involving private disability insurance companies.

However, we’re happy to provide helpful information. If you do need assistance with a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claim (and don’t also have a private disability claim we can help you with), we may be able to connect you with a firm that focuses on these claims.

In general, before you can receive SSDI benefits, the SSA will require you to prove through medical records that you have been diagnosed with Crohn’s and have experienced one of the following:

  • At least two incidents of obstruction in the small intestine or colon that required hospitalization or surgery, with the incidents occurring at least 60 days apart and within a six-month period

OR

Two of the following complications, documented at least 60 days apart:

  • Severe anemia
  • Low levels of serum albumin
  • Abdominal cramping despite following medication and treatment protocols
  • A tender abdominal found mass during a physical exam, and the mass causes pain or discomfort that is not fully controlled by a prescribed narcotic medication
  • Perineal disease with an abscess or fistula and pain that is not controlled by medication
  • Involuntary weight loss of at least 10 percent from your normal weight
  • The need for daily supplemental nutrition through a feeding tube or central venous catheter

How Can I Strengthen My Long-Term Disability Insurance Claim?

Long-term disability claims involving Crohn’s disease and IBD can become complicated. Many symptoms, like fatigue, decreased appetite, and chronic pain, are difficult to document and impossible to prove through diagnostic testing.

Sometimes, insurance adjusters will argue that your test results and the frequency of your medical appointments are not consistent with a disabling, severe impairment. Other times, they will argue that you are non-compliant because you have struggled with dietary changes or medication side effects.

Do not accept these arguments at face value. Instead, get in touch with an experienced disability lawyer who can help you strengthen your case and fight back.

While nothing compares to personalized legal advice from an experienced attorney, here are some things you can do now to build up your Crohn’s disease-related disability insurance claim.

See Your Doctors and Follow Their Recommendations

When you are living with a chronic condition like Crohn’s disease, it is tempting to self-treat your symptoms at home. After all, you probably know from experience what a gastroenterologist will recommend, and home treatment might save you on medical bills.

However, getting advice and treatment options isn’t the only benefit of visiting a doctor. Medical records from visits can help document your flares and track the progression of your disease and its severity.

This information will be essential during your long-term disability claim for two reasons. First, it can help you pinpoint the time when your symptoms became disabling. Second, consistent medical care can refute the insurance company’s arguments that you are in better health than you claim to be.

Additionally, insurance companies sometimes deny claims because people are “noncompliant” with their treatment. To prevent the insurance company from making this argument, do your best to follow your gastroenterologist’s recommendations. If you cannot tolerate a recommended therapy, reach out to your doctor before you make changes to your treatment plan.

Track Your Crohn’s Disease Symptoms and Flares

While a symptom journal is not as compelling as carefully written medical records, a personal journal can help you, your doctors, and your disability insurance lawyer understand your day-to-day limitations.

It is easy to report that you are doing “about the same” or “okay” when you see your doctors or fill out insurance forms. However, when you track your symptoms on a day-to-day basis, you might realize that you have experienced a gradual worsening of your Crohn’s symptoms or that your number of “bad days” is increasing.

For example, you might want to monitor your daily pain levels, bowel urgency, weight loss, loss of appetite, energy levels, and other issues caused by Crohn’s disease. You can write these notes in a notebook or calendar or use a digital app.

If you are not sure where to start with symptom tracking, check out our free Disability Insurance Claim Roadmap. This guide includes helpful worksheets and other advice that can help you prepare your LTD claim.

Do Not Minimize Side Effects Associated With Your Medications

Many treatments associated with Crohn’s disease have serious side effects. The insurance adjuster handling your claim must take these side effects into account when evaluating your disability claim. If you are struggling with nausea, fatigue, or other issues, communicate those issues to your doctors, disability lawyer, and the insurance company.

Consult an Experienced Disability Insurance Lawyer

Disability insurance policies and claims are highly complex, and it is easy to make mistakes when you’re dealing simultaneously with a chronic health condition and a long-term disability claim. When you work with one of our disability insurance lawyers, we handle the insurance company as well as the details of your claim and your medical evidence. Our goal is to give you peace of mind and space to focus on your health.

Initial consultations with our law firm are free, so there is no risk associated with exploring your legal options.

Bryant Legal Group: Chicago’s Premier Disability Insurance Firm

The disability attorneys at Bryant Legal Group guide professionals through their complex legal claims. We take a practical, client-centered approach that focuses on you and your family’s unique needs—and we have recovered millions in compensation for our clients.

If you have questions about whether you are entitled to disability benefits due to Crohn’s disease or IBD, schedule your free consultation today. You can reach us by calling 312-667-2536 or completing this brief online form.