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How Does Nutrition Affect My Disability Claim?

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March is National Nutrition Month, which means it’s the perfect time to take a look at how nutrition may affect your Social Security disability claim.

How Does Social Security Define “Disability”?

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Compared to our cultural definition of “disability,” Social Security’s definition is much narrower. For example, a person in a wheelchair may identify as a disabled individual. However, if that person can work despite being wheelchair-bound, they wouldn’t meet Social Security’s definition of “disabled.”

In order to be considered disabled by Social Security, applicants must have one or more disabling conditions that:

  • Prevent them from performing any of their previous jobs
  • Prevent them from performing any job
  • Has lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months

To show that you meet these criteria, you must have official medical records verifying your claim.

How Nutrition Plays a Role

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Your nutritional habits come into play when Social Security evaluates the permanence and severity of your disabling condition(s).

Permanence

In order to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, your disabling condition(s) must last at least 12 months. However, Social Security is not only interested in whether or not your disabling condition lasts 12 months, but also the reason behind why it may be a temporary or more permanent condition.

Let’s say you suffer from type 2 diabetes. Your condition is so severe that you have been unable to manage it and hold down a job at the same time. If Social Security sees that you’re following your doctor’s treatment instructions, eating healthy, and exercising, but you still cannot work, they will be more likely to consider your condition truly disabling.

However, if you’re neglecting your doctor’s treatment instructions and making poor nutritional decisions, Social Security may have questions about the permanence of your medical condition(s). After all, who can say how long your condition(s) would last if you made healthier nutritional choices?

Severity

Your disabling condition(s) must prevent you from working, not just in the career(s) you were trained for, but in any job. Social Security disability benefits should be a last resort; individuals can almost always make a better living by continuing to work rather than by receiving disability benefits.

That’s why the severity of your condition(s) is so important. If you have a chronic or permanent condition but you can still work, you by all means should.

But it’s difficult to measure the severity of your condition(s) if you’re actively making poor nutrition choices. Nutrition can have a greater effect on certain conditions more than others. For example, if you’re suffering from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) as a result of a car accident, nutrition may not play much of a role in your recovery. While eating healthy is never harmful, it can only be so helpful in the face of certain conditions.

On the other hand, nutrition plays a big role in a condition like diabetes. If you’re eating healthy and regulating your sugars, the severity of your symptoms may decrease. If you’re constantly choosing to eat poorly, your symptoms will likely be more severe.

The Cost of Eating Healthy

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Not everyone can afford healthy options. According to a Nutrition Today article published in 2011, “Food prices pose a significant barrier for many consumers who are trying to balance good nutrition with affordability.”

Typically, junk food is much cheaper, making it the only option for those struggling to get by. If you’re applying for disability benefits because you’re already in need of financial assistance, it’s likely that you don’t have the financial means to afford healthy food options.

“When incomes drop and family budgets shrink, food choices shift toward cheaper but more energy-dense foods,” the Nutrition Today article explains. “The first items dropped are usually healthier foods — high-quality proteins, whole grains, vegetables, and fruit. Low cost energy-rich starches, added sugars, and vegetable fats represent the cheapest way to fill hungry stomachs.”

Because eating healthy can be so expensive, it’s often difficult for disability applicants to follow the wishes of their doctors. Still, focusing on making small changes may help your health without hurting your wallet. Here are a few simple, cost-effective changes you can make to your nutritional habits:

  • If fresh produce is too expensive, purchase frozen or canned fruits and vegetables.
  • Base your meals on affordable brown rice or whole-grain pasta.
  • If you’re in need of an inexpensive source of protein, reach for eggs and beans instead of meats.
  • Purchase fresh produce from local farmer’s markets instead of grocery stores.
  • Replace any soda purchases with water, which is healthier and typically cheaper.

Help from an Indiana Social Security Disability Lawyer

No matter how you look at it, making good nutritional choices makes sense. Hopefully, eating well will improve your health and allow you to go back to work. If that’s not the case, it will at the very least show Social Security that you really can’t go back to work, no matter what you do, and that you would be a good candidate for disability benefits.

If you’re interested in applying for disability benefits, Hensley Legal Group can help. Call us today or contact us online for a free conversation about your claim.