Chronic Hepatitis C may qualify for Long-term Disability Benefits
If you have been diagnosed with Hepatitis C and as a result, are suffering significant symptoms, you may be eligible for long-term disability benefits. It is true that some people are able to function effectively at home and work after becoming infected with Hepatitis C, particularly those who are young and healthy and thus, typically more able to suppress the symptoms. However, as the disease progresses and a person’s immune system weakens, the symptoms of Hepatitis C can be debilitating and individuals may find that they are no longer able to work.
What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis is a liver disease that results when a person is infected by the hepatitis C virus. The Canadian Liver Foundation reports that, after a person is infected by hepatitis C, there are several possible outcomes. Many people don’t feel any effects or symptoms and recover completely. Others feel acute and short-lived symptoms, including fatigue, loss of appetite and jaundice. However, some people are not able to fight off the virus and as a result, they may develop chronic hepatitis C. The latter may lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), liver failure, or later development of liver cancer. Hepatitis C is considered a ‘silent’ disease since symptoms often don’t appear until a person’s liver has been severely damaged.
To contract hepatitis C, the hepatitis virus must enter a person’s bloodstream. This may result through a number of sources, such as: injection drugs, improperly sterilized medical or manicure equipment, tattoos, piercings, shared razors and other products, or a blood product or blood transfusion received in Canada before July 1990.
When first infected, a person often feels no symptoms. This period, termed the ‘acute infection phase’, typically lasts 6 to 8 weeks, but may be longer. If symptoms are felt during this period, they are generally mild and may include fatigue and lethargy, reduction in appetite, jaundice and abdominal pain.
Eventually, for about a quarter of the people who contract the hepatitis C virus, the infection/virus will disappear on its own. However, for the majority of people who are infected, the virus does not resolve and after 6 months, the infection is characterized as chronic.
Three out of four individuals who suffer from chronic hepatitis C suffer only mild to moderate damage to their liver over their lifetime, according to the Canadian Liver Foundation. However, in the remaining one out of four cases, a person with chronic hepatitis C can suffer serious effects, such as cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure, and in 25-30 years, liver cancer. Hepatitis C also often causes a variety of autoimmune-related disorders.
The risk of developing cirrhosis of the liver increases for people who were infected after the age of 40, drink alcohol, are male, are obese, or have contracted another chronic infection or liver disease (such as hepatitis B or HIV).
As previously noted, many people do not feel any symptoms for 20 to 30 years, but when symptoms appear at a late stage, they often involve serious damage to the liver. Traditional treatments for chronic hepatitis C, such as alpha interferons, can have significant side effects which may, in themselves, interfere with the patient’s ability to function in day-to-day activities and at work. Some of the more common side effects of interferon are fatigue, headaches, depression, irritability, feverishness, muscle aches, nausea and/or vomiting, diarrhea, dry mouth and mouth ulcers, and poor appetite. Alpha interferon is administered by injection either once a day or three times a week, potentially for as long as 6 to 24 months.
There have recently been significant strides in the treatment of chronic hepatitis C, including direct acting antivirals (DAAs) that can eradicate the virus from the body. These new treatments are effective in over 90 per cent of cases and have fewer side effects than interferon. Unfortunately, these new treatments are very expensive and are generally only subscripted when a person’s liver disease has reached a serious stage.
A person who suffers serious symptoms due to hepatitis C or due to the side-effects of hepatitis C treatment may be eligible for long-term disability benefits under their disability insurance plan if their symptoms interfere with their ability to perform their job. The test for ‘total disability’ generally requires that a person’s symptoms prevent them from performing the essential tasks of their occupation.
By providing income replacement when your illness or injury prevents you from doing your job, long-term disability coverage not only allows you to pay your bills, it also affords peace of mind during a time when you are also struggling with disabling symptoms such as pain, nausea, extreme fatigue and depression.
Once you have obtained a diagnosis for chronic hepatitis C and if symptoms interfere with the ability to do your job, you can submit an application for long-term disability benefits to your group or independent disability insurance provider. A successful application for LTD benefits for hepatitis C must include a detailed report from your physician that documents your symptoms and explains, specifically, how your symptoms interfere with your ability to function in your job. Your doctor should include the results of medical tests, such as a liver biopsy which will indicate the degree of scarring on your liver. It is generally accepted that the greater the damage or scarring to the liver, the more serious the symptoms or disability.
Even when you suffer serious symptoms due to chronic hepatitis C or due to treatment side-effects you may find that your claim for long-term disability benefits is denied or your benefits are terminated before you are well enough to return to work. In such a case, you may need the help of a skilled disability claims lawyer who understands the legal requirements and processes involved in making a successful claim for benefits. At Kotak Personal Injury Law, we have successfully represented many clients who were unable to work due to a serious disability such as hepatitis C but, nevertheless, had their disability claim denied. Call Kotak Personal Injury Law today and let us advocate for your right to disability benefits.