Over the past few years, Social Security judges have changed the way they look at claimants with HIV. Ten to fifteen years ago, claimants with HIV were often approved at the initial application or at reconsideration and those that ended up at hearings were usually approved because the prevailing wisdom was that if HIV inevitably led to full blown AIDs and an early death.
Now, most Social Security judges do not see an HIV diagnosis as a death sentence. Many judges approach HIV cases similarly to how they approach diabetes cases – with regular medical care and compliance with medications, symptoms arising from HIV can be managed to the point where an HIV patient would be able to perform any number of jobs in the national economy. In my view, this notion of HIV as a medical condition that can be “managed” is a bit optimistic. While there have been many significant medical advances and drug therapies that can suppress the HIV viral load, my experience with HIV clients has been that:
- patients require regular medical management to continuously adjust the drug cocktails that suppress the virus
- keeping track of large numbers of pills can be a difficult and time consuming task – especially for patients with unstable housing arrangements and those fighting depression
- the medications prescribed to HIV patients usually cause bothersome side effects
- patients with HIV often experience significant opportunistic medical problems that require separate treatment regimens
- depression and anxiety affect a large percentage of HIV patients
In my experience, there are some HIV patients who can work for brief periods of time, but there are many who cannot, often for reasons that go beyond symptoms arising from the virus itself.
My case strategy for winning an HIV case generally arises from two, non-exclusive approaches. One approach looks to the medical listing for HIV. The second, more common approach, looks to identify specific work capacity limitations that arise in HIV patients.
Case Studies – hearing reports from disability cases tried by attorney Jonathan Ginsberg
HIV Case Study 1: 43 year old female with HIV (viral load suppressed) and depression overlay
HIV Case Study 2: 32 year old male with HIV and chronic diarrhea complications
HIV Case Study 3: 42 year old male with HIV where the viral load is under control but associated depression and gastric upset leaves him unable to function in a work