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Can I Get Disability Benefits for Obesity in New York?

Obesity, which the Social Security Administration describes as “a complex, chronic disease characterized by excessive accumulation of body fat,” is one of the most common health problems in the United States today. In New York, 23.5 percent of adults are obese, meaning that they have a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30 kilograms per meter of height squared. The percent of Americans who are obese is rising every year, and New York disability lawyers frequently get questions along the lines of, “Can I get disability for obesity?”

Obesity can lead to certain medical conditions, and it can also complicate existing ones. In particular, obesity can have a marked effect on the respiratory, musculoskeletal, and cardiovascular systems. The cost of obesity-attributable medical expenditures in the United States each year is $75 billion by some estimates.

It may be surprising, then, that in the midst of this epidemic, the Social Security Administration removed an obesity listing from the Listing of Impairments in October 1999. In doing so, they explained that “the criteria in listing 9.09 [dealing with obesity] did not represent a degree of functional limitation that would prevent an individual from engaging in any gainful activity.”

At the same time they deleted the obesity listing, they made changes to listings 1.00Q, 3.00I, and 4.00F to address the potential effects obesity has in causing or contributing to impairments in three body systems (musculoskeletal, respiratory, and cardiovascular).

It is no longer possible for an individual to meet a listing based on obesity alone, but if SSA determines that obesity is “severe,” that individual may qualify for disability benefits by medically equaling a listing. A severe impairment, according to SSA, is one that, “alone or in combination with another medically determinable physical or mental impairment, … significantly limits an individual’s physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.”

The determination of whether obesity is severe is based on “an individualized assessment of the impact of obesity on an individual’s functioning” and does not equate to a specific weight or BMI. Descriptive terms like “extreme,” and “morbid,” used in a medical context, will not necessarily mean that SSA will consider obesity “severe,” either.

Since the deletion of obesity from the Listing of Impairments, the method for getting disability benefits for obesity has become more complex, and it is more important than ever that you get an experienced New York disability lawyer to help with your claim. I have been practicing Social Security disability law for over 30 years, 20 of those as a Social Security administrative law judge. I know the ins and outs of the Social Security disability process, and can help you get the benefits you deserve. Call or fill out the form on the right side of this page to schedule a free consultation.