Although a diagnosis of HIV was once considered a death sentence, advances in knowledge and treatment of HIV and AIDS have allowed countless numbers of patients with these viruses to live healthy, productive lives. But for those with advanced cases who are too sick to work, the Social Security Administration has extended a financial lifeline.

The SSA offers disability benefits for HIV and AIDs patients who are unable to work due to their illness. As with other illnesses the administration covers, there are criteria for these benefits. First, your condition must be either terminal or severe to the point that you can’t work for at least 12 months. There are two options for benefits. If you can’t work at all but have paid Social Security taxes in the past, you may be eligible for Social Security disability insurance. The second option is the Supplemental Security Income program, which benefits people who have very little income or other resources.

To see if you qualify for one or both of these programs you first must apply for them. You can do this on your own by applying on the SSA’s website, or you can enlist the help of an attorney with experience in helping people obtain Social Security benefits. Because the application can be extensive and requires quite a bit of information, the process can be frustrating for first-time applicants. You’ll need to know the names and addresses of any doctors, clinics or hospitals you’ve visited as part of your diagnosis and treatment. You’ll also be asked to explain exactly how your illness has prevented you from working, as well as its effects on daily activities such as cooking, cleaning, shopping and getting around — either with a car or public transportation. Applicants should also be prepared to list the kinds of jobs they’ve had over the past 15 years.

Many Social Security disability applications are rejected the first time, which is one reason to enlist the help of an attorney. The legal professional you choose should not only have experience with Social Security disability insurance, but an understanding of what you’re going through and the medical, financial and emotional hurdles you face.

Source: The Paramus Post, “Social Security Helps People with HIV/AIDS,” Everett M. Lo, Nov. 15, 2012

· Our firm works diligently to obtain Social Security benefits for those who need them. To learn more about our practice, please visit our Harrisburg disability claims page.