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I have varicose veins…so what?

While varicose veins are just plain annoying for many of us, you may not have known that they can be a good reason to apply for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits. You may be thinking I’m crazy, but after reading the ins and outs of varicose veins I think you will understand.

What exactly are varicose veins?

Varicose veins are twisted, enlarged veins near the surface of the skin. They are commonly located in the legs and the ankles. For most of us, they are not serious,  but at times they can lead to more serious conditions, including chronic venous insufficiency or deep vein thrombosis.

What causes varicose veins?

These veins are caused by structural abnormalities of blood vessels. A vein’s primary function is to carry blood back to the heart. One-way valves are used to avoid the backflow of the blood. Sometimes these valves can become weakened or defective, thus allowing backflow of blood within the vein. When the valves are not working properly blood will collect in the vein, and pressure will build up. This causes the veins to weaken, and become large and twisted. Some typical causes of varicose veins include being overweight, pregnant, having a job where you stand for long periods or time or having a family history of this condition.

What are some symptoms of varicose veins?

These veins typically look dark blue, swollen and twisted under the skin. Mild symptoms include heaviness, burning, aching, tiredness or pain in your legs; swelling in feet or ankles, or itching over the vein. Serious symptoms can include severe pain and swelling, skin changes, and even open sores.

How are varicose veins treated?

For milder symptoms, you may only need to wear compression stockings, elevate your legs, avoid long periods of standing or sitting, and implement an exercise regimen. For the more serious conditions, you might consider sclerotherapy, laser treatment, radiofrequency treatment or surgery. These treatments will either close off the vein or destroy the vein altogether.

How can varicose veins be used to apply for Social Security disability benefits?

Only those with severe symptoms, like swelling, skin changes and ulcers, are eligible to apply for disability benefits due to a varicose veins condition. Oftentimes, the more severe varicose veins lead to other more serious conditions, like chronic venous insufficiency.

What is chronic venous insufficiency?

One complication from varicose veins is chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). CVI occurs when the venous wall and/or valves in the leg veins are not working properly, making it difficult for blood to return to the heart from the legs. Valves often become damaged and allow blood to leak backward, pooling in the veins. Valve damage can occur from age, sitting or standing for long periods of time, and family history.

You may be thinking CVI sounds pretty similar to the most severe cases of varicose veins. CVI often occurs in these serious situations. However, CVI more commonly occurs as a result of deep venous thrombosis (DVT). DVT is a blood clot that develops deep in the vein located in the thighs or lower legs. When a blood clot develops, it restricts the flow of the blood to the area, causing painful redness, burning and swelling.  Blood clots are particularly dangerous because they can break off and become stuck in various parts of the body, including the lungs, brain and heart, which can cause an embolism. It is difficult to win a disability claim with the only DVT. However, it is possible to win your case if you develop chronic venous insufficiency.

Either of these conditions, DVT or varicose veins, can develop into CVI. CVI is one of the many conditions the Social Security Administration (SSA) has deemed to be so serious that if you meet the criteria you will be almost immediately approved for disability benefits.

How can CVI fast-track a patient to be accepted for SSD benefits?

Accurate and extensive documentation is required as proof for your disability. It is vitally important to meet with a medical provider, so you can have that proof of the condition. CVI is typically diagnosed by a review of the symptoms and also can be confirmed through an ultrasound reading of blood flow.

The criteria required for CVI are noted in the Blue Book Listings. To meet or equal this listing you must have been diagnosed with CVI and experience one of the following complications:

1.   Severe swelling of the legs, involving at least two-thirds of the leg between the ankle and knee, or the distal one-third of the lower extremity between the ankle and hip.

    2.   Cramping, burning, or itching of the legs, scaling of the legs, or wounds that are non-healing for at least 3 months of prescribed treatment.

You can still be approved for disability benefits if your varicose veins do not meet or equal the listing for chronic venous insufficiency.

The SSA will look at all of the evidence and decide if your impairment and related symptoms are so severe that it prevents you from working. To do this, they consider what your residual functional capacity (RFC) is. Your RFC is the most you can do in spite of your functional limitations — how much activity can you actually do? If your symptoms are severe enough, it may prevent you from sitting, standing, or walking for certain periods of time. This may interfere with everyday functions or typical job duties. If your RFC is limited enough you may qualify for benefits using a medical-vocational allowance. It is unlikely that varicose veins alone will limit your RFC. However, varicose veins combined with chronic venous insufficiency may get you past that hurdle.

If you do not meet the listing requirements, your case will become a bit more complicated. You should consider seeking help from an attorney or representative to navigate you through the RFC structure.

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