01/05/2015 03:47 pm ET Updated Mar 07, 2015

Social Security Administration Must Expedite Approval of Disability Claims for Patients with IBD

More than 1.6 million Americans live everyday with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, two chronic, incurable, and debilitating inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) that cause crippling abdominal pain, persistent diarrhea, rectal bleeding, fever, and weight loss, among other symptoms.

Patients with IBD depend on medication (antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, steroids, and immunosuppressants) to control the inflammation, ulceration, and pain caused by these diseases. While beneficial, these medications can cause severe side effects including nausea, vomiting, heartburn, night sweats, insomnia, hyperactivity, high blood pressure and stunted growth in children. Patients on immunosuppressants are at risk of developing lymphoma, tuberculosis, kidney and liver damage, anaphylaxis, seizures, and potentially serious or fatal infections.

Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis can also cause issues in other parts of the body, including inflammation of the eye, mouth sores, arthritis, osteoporosis, gallstones, kidney stones, skin rashes and ulcerations, blood clots, anemia and neurological conditions, such as seizures, stroke, headaches, and depression.

It is estimated that about 23 to 45 percent of people with ulcerative colitis and up to 75 percent of people with Crohn's disease eventually require surgery to treat these disease. For patients with mild and moderate forms of IBD, bowel resections and strictureplasties can be used to remove scar tissue and narrow parts of the intestine. For patients with more severe cases of IBD who are unable to control symptoms with medication, the partial or full removal of the colon may be necessary.

Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are rarely fatal in and of themselves, but there are many complications from these diseases that can be fatal. Potentially fatal complications include colorectal cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bowel perforation, sepsis, toxic megacolon, diseases of the genital and urinary tracts, malabsorption, malnutrition and surgical complications.

Despite the constant pain and worry that Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis patients live with, many can and do lead full and productive lives. Unfortunately, when these diseases flare, they can have a significant impact on the quality of life for patients, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Flares of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis make it difficult for patients to lead regular lives. Oftentimes, they end up hospitalized due to complications such as intestinal blockages, perforations, infections, and malnutrition. Additionally, surgical intervention is often necessary to treat these complications, leading to lengthy hospital stays and bouts of time out of work and school.

Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis can be disabling, and as such are considered a disability by the Social Security Administration. Many patients apply for social security disability Insurance (SSDI) or supplemental security income (SSI) when they are unable to work due to illness in order to supplement their income. Unfortunately, more often than not, these claims are denied by the Social Security Administration, forcing Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis patients to go through the arduous process of reapplying for benefits and then appealing the decision with the court system, all the while living with a financially burdensome disease and having little to no income.

This happens time and time again and takes months for IBD patients to receive SSDI and SSI benefits because inflammatory bowel disease is not included on Social Security's Compassionate Allowance List of illnesses. The Compassionate Allowances initiative allows the expediting of SSDI and SSI disability claims for applicants whose medical conditions are so severe that they obviously meet Social Security's definition of disability. There are more than 225 diseases already included on this list currently; however, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are not.

Every year, the Social Security Administration convenes hearings to add new illnesses to this list. The White House must urge the Social Security Administration to convene a hearing to add inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, to its Compassionate Allowance initiative in order to expedite the approval of critical government assistance for patients living with these incurable digestive diseases.

Stand in solidarity with patients with inflammatory bowel disease everywhere and sign this petition calling on the White House to take action here: