More than one-million Americans are living with HIV or AIDS in the United States. Unlike almost any other virus, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has the potential to fundamentally change the course of your life. Treatment for HIV has dramatically improved with the years, especially if diagnosed early. However, HIV often results in disability.
Your body’s immune system cannot kill HIV. Instead, HIV turns your body’s immune system against you. It latches onto your immune cells and makes copies of itself, destroying your immune system in the process. Certain medications prevent HIV from multiplying or slow its progression, but modern medicine cannot currently cure HIV.
HIV/AIDS Can Lead to Significant Disabilities
Antiretroviral therapy has revolutionized the treatment of HIV during the last few decades. Accordingly, more people are living far longer with HIV and AIDS, but it’s still difficult to treat.
Contact the award-winning long-term individual disability attorneys and top-rated group ERISA lawyers at DarrasLaw if you’re disabled because of HIV or AIDS. We know how the virus progresses and what compensation you’ll need during the course of your life.
An HIV/AIDS diagnosis alone isn’t enough to successfully claim individual or group long-term disability benefits despite its seriousness. We know what compelling medical evidence and proof individual and group long-term disability insurers are looking for, and we can help you and your treating doctors present the proper evidence to your disability carrier. Call our experienced long-term individual disability attorneys and stellar group ERISA attorneys today at (800) 458-4577 or contact us online to schedule your free, confidential disability policy analysis and free claim consultation.
The Three Stages of HIV
Once infected, HIV multiplies within the body, slowly breaking down your immune system. Many patients diagnosed with HIV don’t have symptoms during its early stages. Unfortunately, this is when the virus often spreads. Patients may continue to live and work as they would without the virus until symptoms begin to develop.
There are three stages of HIV:
Stage 1 – Acute Primary Infection – During this stage, your body begins to react to the HIV virus. Your immune system attacks the virus, forming anti-HIV antibodies, but it can’t kill it. HIV then infects your immune cells and begins to multiply. Some patients have no symptoms during this stage, while others will develop flu-like systems, including:
- Sore throat
- Body aches
- Joint pain
These symptoms may only last a few weeks while your body first attacks the HIV virus.
Stage 2 – The Asymptomatic Stage – Patients who don’t experience symptoms during Stage 1 won’t feel any different when they reach stage 2. Patients who did experience flu-like symptoms often feel better after their bodies’ initial reactions to the virus.
HIV can live and multiply in your system, symptomless, for 10 to 15 years during this time. How long you’ll remain symptomless depends on your overall age and health, but HIV is still trying to destroy the immune system over these years.
Stage 3 – Symptomatic HIV/AIDS – Once HIV wears down your immune system, you’ll begin to suffer from diseases your body would normally fight off. HIV itself doesn’t cause an illness, it simply prevents your body from fighting common illnesses such as colds. Serious infections, fungal diseases, viruses, and lymphoma-type cancers are common during this stage. Many Stage 3 HIV patients experience the following symptoms on top of regular infections, illnesses, and diseases:
- Weight loss
- Mouth sores
- Skin rashes
- Night sweats
- Chronic bowel irritation
- Persistent coughing
Even if an HIV patient can physically perform the important duties of his or her occupation, going to work could result in exposure to illness. Even one coworker with the common cold could present a serious and perhaps fatal danger to an HIV patient.
Unfortunately, people in this situation may find that their individual or group long-term disability insurance company has denied their valid claim because they can arguably still physically perform their occupation’s important duties. When HIV is asymptomatic, you’ll have to prove you can’t work due to the imminent danger of infection, and that risk is a real disability.
The award-winning long-term individual disability attorneys and nationally renowned group ERISA lawyers at DarrasLaw can work with your treating doctors to gather the legally sufficient, objective medical evidence you need to prove your case. We know that HIV affects everyone differently and every case is important and unique.
What’s the Difference Between HIV and AIDS?
HIV is the virus that triggers Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Also known as Stage 3 HIV, AIDS is a separate condition that irreparably damages your immune system. It arises when your white blood cells drop below a certain level or percentage. Not everyone with HIV develops AIDS. Antiretroviral treatments can try to stop HIV from multiplying in its early stages, essentially keeping you in Stage 1 or 2 status.
To determine the stage of the disease, your treating doctor will test your white blood cell count immune system cells, the amount of HIV in your blood, and whether you have a drug-resistant strain of HIV.
Medical professionals typically treat HIV with a drug regiment initially developed during the 1990s. These drugs typically inhibit the protein HIV needs to replicate. This may prevent you from progressing to a later stage of the disease. Other drugs make a distorted version of the protein to trick HIV, and prevent HIV from entering your immune cells. Taken together, the life expectancy for those with HIV has increased by about 40 years since manufacturers first introduced these potentially lifesaving drugs.
Opportunistic Infections and HIV/AIDS
The most common illnesses experienced by HIV/AIDS patients are called opportunistic infections. Whether and to what extent you develop an opportunistic infection depends on your overall immune health, level of treatment, and exposure to those infections. The following are among the most common opportunistic infections contracted by HIV/AIDS patients:
- Candidiasis of the respiratory system – This fungal infection is usually harmless, but can spread to the deep tissues of the lungs in patients with HIV/AIDS. It also causes yeast infections, mouth sores, fever, chills and it can spread throughout your body. Remember, this is a fungal infection, not a bacterial infection, so antibiotics are not an effective treatment.
- Cervical cancer – Certain types of cancers are more common with HIV/AIDS. Because Human Papillomavirus often causes cervical cancer, your body’s inability to fight the virus has the potential to result in cervical cancer.
- CMV – This virus causes pneumonia, brain infections, colon infections and even eye infections. Patients with CMV often struggle with vision problems and even blindness.
- Herpes – While herpes is typically a sexually transmitted disease, the failure of your immune system can trigger a latent form of herpes. It can cause painful sores and ulcers around your mouth, and in severe cases, in your throat and lungs.
- Isosporiasis – This patristic infection causes diarrhea, headaches, fever, vomiting, pain and weight loss. You can get it from contaminated food and water. While people with healthy immune systems can fight this parasite, those with HIV/AIDS do so with great difficulty.
- Kaposi’s sarcoma (cancer) – This cancer is caused by a virus. It attacks the small blood vessels but can spread to your organs and lymph nodes. If not treated early, this type of cancer is life-threatening.
- Lymphoma (cancer) – This cancer attacks the lymph nodes—that is, your immune system. It’s common in patients with late-stage HIV, and patients diagnosed with lymphoma are often tested for HIV/AIDs.
- Tuberculosis – This is one of the most common opportunistic infections attacking HIV and AIDS patients. It’s an airborne bacterial disease that can spread when infected people cough, sneeze, or even speak. TB affects the lungs, but it can spread to the kidneys, lymph nodes, brain, or bones.
- Pneumonia – This infection of the lungs is caused by different bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Pneumonia is considered the most common life-threatening condition for HIV/AIDS patients, but vaccines can prevent certain strains of viral pneumonia.
- Toxoplasmosis of the brain – Animals like birds, cats, rodents, red meats, and pork carry this parasitic condition. This infection can also attack the lungs, liver, eyes, colon, heart and pancreas.
Finally, many patients with AIDS will suffer from wasting syndrome. This occurs when you lose more than 10 percent of your body weight in a short period of time due to diarrhea, fever, weakness, or an inability to eat. Wasting syndrome often depletes both fat and muscle mass, further weakening an already debilitated patient.
Individual and Group Long-Term Disability Insurance and HIV/AIDS
The key to successfully claiming individual or group long-term disability benefits is proving that a disabling illness or injury prevents you from performing the material and substantial duties of your occupation with reasonable continuity.
Some people may not wish to reveal an HIV-positive diagnosis, but this may prove problematic when trying to obtain individual or group long-term disability benefits. Furthermore, some individual and group long-term disability insurers require you to show how an underlying diagnosis of HIV alone affects your ability to perform the important duties of your occupation with reasonable continuity and in the usual and customary way. HIV manifests differently in every person, and the severity of the condition depends on your overall health and early treatment.
As such, there’s no automatic entitlement to individual or group long-term disability benefits by virtue of an early stage diagnosis. Your work environment, however, may play a role in your case. The compromised immune systems of HIV patients may prevent them from working as pre-school teachers, nurses, doctors, vet techs, or sanitation employees due to the risk of infection associated with those occupations. If your occupation involves abnormal levels of exposure to viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungus, you may qualify for individual or group long-term disability benefits due to your occupation’s imminent risk of getting an infection. Your employer may try to make accommodations for you, but your treating doctors ultimately must decide whether it’s safe to work with your condition.
Most individual or group disability insurers try to offer lowball initial lump sum offers in cases like these. A $100,000 lump sum settlement may seem enticing, but monthly individual or group long-term disability benefits may prove a much wiser choice in the long run. Twenty years ago, AIDS patients expected to live only 18 months after their initial diagnosis. Now, patients can live decades with HIV.
Individual and group long-term disability insurance typically pays you a certain percentage of your monthly income, as defined in your policy. If you make $50,000 per year, your individual or group long-term disability policy may entitle you to 60 percent or $30,000 per year in benefits. This means you’ll receive $300,000 during the next ten years. That $100,000 lump sum offer will only equate to about three years of individual or group long-term disability benefits and two years of your normal income.
For some patients, a lump sum settlement with your individual or group disability insurer may prove wise. For others, it’s best to claim monthly individual or group long-term disability benefits. The experienced long-term individual disability attorneys and seasoned group ERISA lawyers at DarrasLaw can provide expert advice on present value calculations, morality and morbidity discounts to help you make that important decision.
Call America’s Top-Rated Long-Term Disability Lawyers and Award-Winning Group ERISA Attorneys for a Free, Confidential Consultation
The nation’s top-rated long-term disability lawyer, Frank N. Darras, and his firms have recovered nearly $1 billion in wrongfully delayed, denied and terminated insurance benefits. If your individual or group long-term disability insurer has wrongfully delayed, denied, or terminated your benefits, call our nationally prominent long-term disability attorneys and award-winning group ERISA lawyers at DarrasLaw to schedule your free policy analysis and free claim consultation. Don’t make a fatal disability claim mistake. We’re here for you whether you need to litigate a complex ERISA case, file an individual bad-faith disability claim, or negotiate a lump sum settlement. Contact us at (800) 458-4577 or online without delay!