Simply having HIV'or even receiving an AIDS diagnosis'isn't enough to qualify an individual for federal disability benefits, according to Howard Schwartz, associate director of coordinated care at Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York City. 'It's the medical ailments and the day-to-day symptoms that prevent someone from working that are important,' he says. 'It's really all connected to employability.'
And it's your doctor who plays the key role in securing your disability benefits. Your primary care physician must agree that you are unable to work and fill out forms detailing precisely why that is the case. 'For people dealing with a complicated HIV-related disability, it has to be very carefully spelled out,' cautions Jason Roundy, program manager of client advocacy services at AIDS Project Los Angeles.
But you can certainly help document your claim, Schwartz and Roundy say. If your anti-HIV medications give you severe diarrhea, keep a journal noting how many times a day you use the restroom while at work and how long each visit keeps you away from your desk or workstation. If you're nauseated, keep a record of when and how often you experience symptoms on the job. If you're fatigued, chronicle what work-related tasks'or even simple activities like standing or walking'you're too tired or weak to perform.
'Be specific up to and past the border of being graphic on the kinds of issues you deal with that are related to being disabled,' Roundy urges. The more detail you provide, he adds, the easier it is for the people reviewing your disability application to clearly understand your work-related restrictions.