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Can Rheumatoid Arthritis qualify for Social Security Disability?

Appealing for benefits is best done under the guidance of an experienced disability lawyer.

Can I get disability benefits if I am suffering from the effects of Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Author: Attorney Lloyd Bemis
Updated: 2/1/2024

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that attacks the synovial tissues in joints causing pain, swelling, and deformity. RA can become debilitating as it progresses, making it difficult or impossible to work. Approximately 1.3 million Americans suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, 75% being female. If you are suffering from the effects of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) you may qualify for disability benefits.

 Rheumatoid Arthritis and qualifying for Social Security Disability Insurance

If you are suffering from the effects of Rheumatoid Arthritis and have been denied disability don’t give up, almost 70% are denied initially! Just call 512-454-4000 for a free, no obligation consultation to learn what your options are.

Symptoms vary from person to person and can come and go.

An individual may experience episodes of increased swelling and inflammation and then periods of remission where swelling is reduced or even disappears for a while. Usually, symptoms occur in joints on both sides of the body and include:

  •    joints that are swollen and tender
  •   joint stiffness that is worse in the morning or follows a period of inactivity
  •   appearance of rheumatoid nodules (bumps of tissue)

How can I qualify for SSDI if I have rheumatoid arthritis?

The Social Security Administration acknowledges rheumatoid arthritis as a disabling impairment in its Blue Book under Section 14.09, Inflammatory Arthritis, but your condition must be advanced and you must prove that you are unable to perform any type of work on a consistent basis.

Social Security provides specific requirements you must satisfy to be approved under this listing and you must meet one of the following sets of criteria:

  •    RA affects at least one joint in your legs (foot, ankle, knee, or hip) and you have a documented medical need for a walker, two canes or crutches, or a wheelchair requiring both hands.
  •   RA affects at least one joint in your legs and you are unable to use one of your arms to complete work-related activities. You must have evidence that you need to use your other hand for a hand-held device, such as a cane or a wheelchair involving the use of one hand.
  •   RA affects both of your arms or hands, preventing you from performing many different tasks with your arms or hands (involving both large muscle movements and small manipulations).
  •   You have inflammation or permanent damage in one or more major joints, such as an arm or a leg, and you have moderately severe issues with two more organs or body systems, causing at least two of the following symptoms: severe fatigue, fever, malaise (discomfort), or involuntary weight loss.
  •   You have ankylosing spondylitis (fusion of vertebrae) or a similar joint issue that causes fixation of your spine of at least 45 degrees.
  •   You have ankylosing spondylitis or a similar joint issue that causes fixation of your spine of at least 30 degrees, and you have moderately severe issues with two more organs or body systems.
  •    You have repeated flare-ups of RA with at least two of the following symptoms that cause significant limitations in your activities of daily living, social functioning, or ability to complete tasks: fever, severe fatigue, malaise, or involuntary weight loss.

Because many people with rheumatoid arthritis are able to work for several years following diagnosis, to be approved for benefits you must show that the disease has progressed to the point where you can no longer work.

You should be prepared to provide detailed medical records and show how your RA has worsened over time. Your medical evidence should include:

  •    A confirmed diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis;
  •   Results of blood tests, particularly those that indicate the presence of RA;
  •   X-rays, MRIs and other imaging that measure range of motion;
  •   Doctors’ notes detailing the severity and frequency of your symptoms;
  •   Records of treatments and results;
  •   Medications and side effects; and
  •   Contact information for all medical providers.

Social Security gives a lot of weight to doctors’ opinions.

You need to show that you are receiving regular medical treatment and following your doctor’s instructions. A written statement from your doctor regarding your diagnosis and outlook for your recovery is extremely helpful. Also, 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. If you can’t sit or stand for long periods of time because of RA, or if you have 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.

Once Social Security determines the limitations caused by your condition, they will employ a vocational expert to assess whether a person with these limitations is employable.

“Once Social Security determines the limitations caused by your condition, they will employ a vocational expert to assess whether a person with these limitations is employable. Most vocational experts will find a person to be unemployable if their condition or the treatment rendered for the condition causes the person to regularly be absent two or more days a month or be “off-task” 15% or more of the workday.” – Lloyd Bemis Disability Attorney

If you are 55 or older or have another medical condition you may get approval.

Social Security follows a set of rules to determine when the agency expects an applicant to learn a new job.

Applicants who are 55 or older often fall under a grid rule, which means they are not expected to learn a new job. For example, a 55-year-old applicant with no transferable skills might be found disabled. If you can’t go back to your old job, and you don’t have the skills to learn a new one, Social Security will likely grant you disability benefits.

You may also be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits if you have another medical condition.

Rheumatoid arthritis increases the risk of developing other disorders such as osteoporosis, heart problems, lung disease, and carpal tunnel syndrome. While one disorder alone may not meet the criteria of an impairment as stated in Social Security’s Blue Book, if you have more than one medical condition, Social Security must consider how those health issues combined limit your ability to hold a job and perform necessary daily tasks.

Social Security has basic financial requirements you must satisfy.

In order to be eligible for Social Security disability benefits, you must meet some basic financial requirements.

You must: 1) have a disability that has lasted or is expected to last 12 months; and 2) you must have worked in a job where you paid Social Security taxes long enough and recently enough; and 3) you must not earn more than Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), which is $1,550 per month in 2024 for nonblind applicants and $2,590 per month for blind applicants.

What if I don’t qualify for SSDI?

If you earn too much income, or if you haven’t worked long enough to earn enough work credits to qualify for SSDI, you may still be eligible for disability benefits through another Social Security program, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or from a long-term disability insurance plan through your employer or a privately purchased policy.

SSI is a program that pays monthly benefits to people with limited income and resources who are disabled, blind, or age 65 or older. SSI is based on income instead of work credits, and is financed by general funds of the U.S. Treasury.

I have long-term disability insurance – should I file a claim?

Yes, you should file a claim as soon as you become disabled.

Long-term disability insurance (LTD) is coverage that protects your income if you are unable to work due to illness or injury and is purchased as part of a group employment plan or privately through an insurance company. Policies pay between 50-60% of your salary and benefits continue until you return to work or for the number of years stated in the policy. However, LTD coverage is good only as long as you are employed, so do not quit your job before you file a claim, and be sure to check your policy’s definition of “disabled” as each policy will state the definition of “disabled” which is in use. Additionally, be aware that long-term disability insurance companies can require a claimant to also apply for SSDI.

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How do I file for Social Security Disability benefits?

You can apply for Social Security Disability benefits online, over the phone, or in person at your local Social Security Administration office.

If your initial application is denied, don’t be discouraged – most are – and you will have the opportunity to appeal. There are four steps to the Social Security appeal process:

  1.   File a Request for Reconsideration with the Social Security Administration to completely review the case.
  2.   If you don’t agree with SSA’s response to your Request for Reconsideration, you can request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). ALJs are attorneys who work for the Social Security Administration; they review SSDI cases and either uphold or overturn decisions to deny SSDI benefits. If you are not represented by an attorney at this point, now is the time to obtain legal counsel. This is a critical point in the process and will raise your chance for success.
  3.   If an ALJ does not grant your claim, you can request that the Appeals Council review your case.
  4.   Federal Court review. The final step in the appeal process is filing suit in U.S. District Court.

Do I need a disability attorney for SSDI?

Qualifying and applying for SSDI is a long, complicated process that can take several months to years.

If you have rheumatoid arthritis and cannot work, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, but your chances for approval are increased significantly if you have legal representation. At each potential stage of the process, from the initial application stage, the reconsideration stage and the ALJ hearing stage, an attorney can assist you in completing the detailed forms and questionnaires required by Social Security, collecting and submitting relevant medical evidence, and preparing questionnaires for your doctors. At the ALJ hearing phase an attorney will not only continue to assure that the evidence is complete, but prepare you for questioning by the ALJ, prepare an argument on your behalf and question any doctors or vocational experts selected by the ALJ to testify at the hearing. At the Appeals Council and federal court level, a lawyer can present legal arguments to show your case was wrongfully denied. Fees charged by disability attorneys are regulated by federal law and are usually 25% of disability backpay you are owed. There are no out-of-pocket costs, and if you don’t win your case, you won’t be charged anything.

If you are suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and have been denied disability don’t give up, almost 70% are denied initially! Just call 512-454-4000 for a free, no obligation consultation to learn what your options are. Have some questions? just give us a call, we love to help folks just like you!

Do I need a disability attorney for a long-term disability insurance claim?

Whether you have a long-term disability insurance policy purchased through a private insurance broker or a group policy purchased with your employer, filing a claim for long-term insurance is a complex process.

The wording of LTD policies can be confusing and the laws and regulations which affect the two types of LTD insurance differ in their procedures for filing claims and appeals. An experienced LTD attorney with thorough knowledge of ERISA laws and regulations will avoid mistakes and increase your chance of success. An attorney will act on your behalf, completing your application and filing your claim in a timely manner. They can also negotiate a settlement or file an appeal for you. If it becomes necessary to file suit, an LTD attorney can prepare your case against an insurer. Most LTD attorneys handle cases on a contingency basis and charge approximately 25%-40% of a claimant’s past due benefits. You do not pay an attorney’s fee unless the attorney wins your case.

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At The Texas Disability law firm Bemis Roach & Reed, our attorneys are committed to helping injured or disabled clients receive the benefits they deserve. Mr. Roach is AV Preeminent and SuperLawyers rated and has become a recognized leader in the field of Long Term Disability law. Mr Bemis focuses his practice on Social Security disability while Mr Reed handles both LTD and SSDI claims. Both are AV Preeminent and SuperLawyers rated and all our attorneys have been successfully helping people fight for their rights against big insurance companies and the government since 1993. If you have applied for benefits and been denied call 512-454-4000 for a free consultation and get help NOW.

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"Words can not truly express the gratitude that I feel toward Mr. Lonnie Roach and his professional team. I give them an A+++. Very compassionate and prompt. Their priorities are first and foremost helping you succeed at your case. When you feel helpless, feeling like someone is on your side can mean the world to you. Thank you for working for the people."
-Amy K.

Attorney Lloyd BemisAuthor: 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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