Can Rheumatoid Arthritis qualify for Social Security Disability?
Can I get disability benefits if I am suffering from the effects of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Author Attorney Lloyd Bemis:
Approximately 1.3 million Americans suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and 41 out of every 100,000 are diagnosed every year. Rheumatoid Arthritis, or RA, is a progressive autoimmune disease that attacks the synovial tissues in joints and can be debilitating in its advanced stages. If you are unable to work because of Rheumatoid Arthritis, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.
When an autoimmune disease occurs, the body’s immune system mistakes its own tissue for a foreign substance, such as a virus or bacteria.
The body then develops antibodies to target and destroy these “invaders.” When synovial tissue, the lining in joints that provides lubrication, is attacked, chronic swelling and pain results. Inflammation thickens synovial fluid which destroys cartilage and bone within the joint; tendons which hold the joint together then weaken and stretch. Rheumatoid Arthritis can affect any organ in the body, including the heart and lungs. RA affects smaller joints first, such as fingers, hands and feet and then spreads to knees, ankles, hips and shoulders. Over time, the erosion of bone can cause deformity and permanent disability.
Symptoms vary and may come and go.
A person may experience a period of increased swelling and inflammation called flares or periods of remission where swelling is reduced or even disappears for a while. In most cases, symptoms occur in joints on both sides of the body and include:
- joints that are swollen, tender and warm to the touch
- joint stiffness that is worse in the morning or following a period of inactivity
- appearance of bumps of tissue called rheumatoid nodules
Contact a Social Security disability attorney at 512-454-4000 for a free consultation and see if you can get disability benefits while suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis. If you have been denied disability don’t give up!
Some people also experience fatigue, weight loss, and fever and have symptoms that impact other parts of the body including:
- heart and blood vessels
- nerve tissue
- salivary glands
- bone marrow
Doctors don’t know what triggers the process, but believe several risk factors are involved:
- Gender. Women are two to three times more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, leading researchers to believe that hormones may play a role in preventing or triggering the disease.
- Age. RA can occur at any age, but usually begins in middle age.
- Family history. An individual who has a family member with RA has an increased risk of developing the disease.
- Smoking. Smoking is also associated with increased severity of RA.
- Environment. Exposure to asbestos or silica carries increased risk.
Because the symptoms of RA mimic other diseases, it is difficult to diagnose in its early stages.
Doctors will look for swelling, redness, and warmth around joints. Blood tests can reveal inflammatory processes and the presence of antibodies in the body. Imaging tests such as x-rays, MRIs, or ultrasounds can help determine the severity and progression of the disease. Treatment involves a variety of medications to control pain and inflammation, as well as slow the progression of RA and prevent permanent damage. Physical therapy can keep joints flexible and provide alternate ways to perform tasks. If medications fail to prevent or slow joint damage, surgery may be recommended.
Qualifying for Disability for Rheumatoid Arthritis
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you may qualify for Social Security Disability income, but your condition must be advanced and your ability to perform any type of work must be severely limited.
The criteria under this listing is lengthy and complex; you must satisfy one of the following conditions:
- Rheumatoid arthritis must affect both arms preventing any tasks involving the arms (such as lifting); or
- Rheumatoid arthritis must be present in a leg joint causing difficulty walking. You must need to use a cane, walker, or wheelchair; or
- You have inflammation or a deformity in one or more major joint with involvement of two or more organs or body systems resulting in at least two of the following symptoms: fever, malaise, severe fatigue, or involuntary weight loss; or
- You have ankylosing spondylitis or another spondyloarthropathy with fixation of the spine of at least 45 degrees. (Ankylosing spondylitis is an inflammatory arthritis disorder causing fusion or fixation of joints); or
- You have ankylosing spondylitis with 30 degrees fixation of the spine and involvement with two or more body systems; or
- You have repeated flare-ups of RA with 2 of the following symptoms: fever, malaise, extreme fatigue, or weight loss.
Many people with rheumatoid arthritis are able to work for years following diagnosis.
You must show that the disease has progressed to the point that you are no longer able to work. In order to be approved for Social Security disability benefits you should be prepared to provide detailed medical records and show how your RA has worsened over time. The Social Security Administration relies on the latest edition of the Primer on Rheumatoid Arthritis, published by the Arthritis Foundation, to evaluate rheumatoid arthritis claims.
Your medical evidence should include:
- A confirmed diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis;
- Contact information for all medical providers;
- Results of blood tests, particularly those that show a positive rheumatoid factor;
- Other tests such as imaging studies and those determining range of motion;
- Doctors’ notes regarding the severity and frequency of your symptoms; and
- Records of treatment and results.
Be sure to include contact information for all previous employers and dates of employment with your application, as well as performance evaluations and attendance records.
If your rheumatoid arthritis doesn’t quite match the criteria of Social Security’s listing, you may still be approved for disability benefits if you are unable to perform consistent work.
Social Security will conduct a Residual Functional Capacity assessment, taking into account how long you can sit or stand, if you need frequent rest breaks, and how chronic pain impacts your abilities, as well as your age, education and job skills. For example, if you have finger swelling and pain, you might not be able to type or perform other tasks required by most sedentary jobs. If Social Security determines there are no jobs you can do, you may be granted a Medical-Vocational Allowance.
In order to qualify for Social Security Disability, you will need to satisfy a few specific requirements in two categories as determined by the Social Security Administration.
The first category is the Work Requirements which has two tests.
- The Duration of Work test. Whether you have worked long enough to be covered under SSDI.
- The Current Work Test. Whether you worked recently enough for the work to actually count toward coverage.
The second category is the Medical Eligibility Requirement.
- Are you working? Your disability must be “total”.
- Is your medical condition severe? Your disability must be “severe” enough to interfere with your ability to perform basic work-related activities, such as walking, sitting, and remembering.
- Is your medical condition on the List of Impairments? The SSA has a “List of Impairments” that automatically qualify as “severe” disabilities. If your disease is not listed this does not mean you cannot get disability, it means you must prove you cannot maintain employment due to your limitations.
- Can you do the work you did before? SSDI rules look at whether your medical condition prevents you from doing the work you did prior to developing the condition.
- Can you do any other type of work? If you cannot do your prior work, an evaluation is made as to whether you can perform any other kind of work.
More details can be found on our Qualifying for Disability page.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis and it has prevented you from working full-time, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.
Disability benefits are an important source of income for those who are unable to work. If you are not able to work due to accident or illness, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability or Long Term Disability benefits. If you have applied for benefits and been denied, contact the attorneys at Bemis, Roach and Reed for a free consultation. Call 512-454-4000 and get help NOW.
Author: Attorney Lloyd Bemis has been practicing law for over 35 years. He is Superlawyers rated by Thomson Reuters and is Top AV Preeminent® and Client Champion Gold rated by Martindale Hubbell. Through his extensive litigation Mr. Bemis obtained dual board certifications from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Lloyd is admitted to practice in the United States District Court - all Texas Districts and has argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. Mr. Bemis is a member of the Travis County Bar Association. He has been active in the American Association for Justice and is a past Director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association. Mr. Bemis and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.
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