September 18, 2012
Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Social Security Disability
In my practice I often represent individuals with bowel and urinary problems, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is no exception. The symptoms my clients describe make me a real believer that they are unable to function in a work environment without accommodations that most employers are unwilling to make. Some of my clients find it embarrassing to discuss their symptoms, so they do not provide the best testimony at their disability hearing. I remind them that their hearings are confidential, and that no one outside of the hearing room will know what has been said. Nonetheless, I understand their hesitancy to discuss these personal issues.
One key to winning at your Social Security disability hearing is to make sure that the administrative law judge (ALJ) understands the nature of your Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms. The Social Security Administration (SSA) publishes a book called the “Listing of Impairments” that attempts to clearly define the conditions the SSA recognizes as disabling. Although IBS is not specifically addressed in these listings, some of its symptoms are included under Listing 5.06 for Inflammatory Bowel Disease and under other listings in Section 5: Digestive System Impairments. Even if your Irritable Bowel Syndrome does not meet or equal a listing under Section 5, your symptoms may be severe enough to interfere with your ability to do work-related activities. These symptoms can include, but are not limited to:
- Diarrhea that can be frequent and chronic
- Constipation that can be frequent and chronic
- Abdominal pain
- Feeling of fullness or bloating
Many of my clients with this disabling condition complain of having to make countless trips to the bathroom each day and of having uncontrollable bowel movements or “accidents” on many occasions. If you have frequent bowel accidents, it is important to inform your medical treating source about them and about any other symptoms you regularly experience so they can be documented in your medical records. In my experience, it is also important to see an appropriate medical specialist, such as a gastroenterologist. Medical records showing consistent care from a doctor who specializes in treating your disabling condition can be crucial to prove that your impairment is severe enough to be disabling.
If an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) can be convinced that your IBS symptoms, such as needing frequent restroom breaks or having bowel accidents, require you to leave your workstation too often during a work day, the judge may conclude you simply cannot perform a full day of work and would be terminated from employment for being off task too often. I have seen Vocational Experts (VE) testify at hearings that excessive bathroom breaks are not tolerated by employers. Through my law practice I have come to understand how frustrating disabling conditions such as IBS can be to my clients, and I work hard to make sure the SSA knows the severe limitations my clients experience.