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Can I qualify for Social Security disability if I am suffering from the effects of Systemic Sclerosis?

The SSA recognizes systemic sclerosis as an impairment but to be eligible for disability benefits you must be able to provide medical documentation that you meet their definition.

 
 

Can you get disability benefits for Systemic Sclerosis?


Systemic sclerosis or scleroderma is an autoimmune disease that causes the hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissue. It can affect any organ of the body and severely impact a person’s life.


Systemic Sclerosis and Qualifying for SS Disability Benefits

The SSA recognizes systemic sclerosis as an impairment under Section 14.00 Immune System Disorders. To be eligible for disability benefits, you must be able to provide medical documentation that you meet the definition as listed in its Blue Book.

According to the Scleroderma Foundation, it is estimated that 300,000 Americans are living with scleroderma.

Although children can develop scleroderma, the condition usually begins between the ages of 30 and 50 and affects more women than men. Systemic sclerosis is not contagious, infectious, or cancerous.


There are two main classifications of scleroderma – localized and systemic.

Localized sclerosis is more common in children while systemic sclerosis is more common in adults. Localized scleroderma usually affects only the skin and is relatively mild. It is characterized by waxy patches on the skin that vary in size, color and shape (“morphea”) or a line of hardened skin on an arm, leg or the forehead (“linear”).


Systemic sclerosis affects the connective tissue in many different parts of the body and may involve the lungs, kidneys, blood vessels, heart, esophagus, and gastrointestinal system as well as the skin.

The tissue becomes fibrous and hard resulting in complications and reduced organ function.


For example:

  •   Scarred lung tissue can affect breathing ability and a person’s tolerance for exercise
  •   Increased protein in the blood can cause high blood pressure and result in renal failure
  •    Scarring of heart tissue increases the risk of abnormal heartbeat and congestive heart failure.


Systemic sclerosis is characterized as either diffuse or limited.

In diffuse systemic scleroderma skin thickening occurs more rapidly and affects a larger area of the body than in limited scleroderma. Symptoms are more severe and worsen quickly. Approximately 35% of patients with systemic scleroderma develop this type of systemic scleroderma. Limited scleroderma is milder and develops more slowly, usually affecting the fingers and face.


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 Systemic Sclerosis. If you have been denied disability don’t give up!


Sclerosis is difficult to diagnose because its symptoms are similar to other autoimmune diseases.

A doctor will review a patient’s medical history and order lab tests as well as x-rays and CT scans to look at bone abnormalities.


Some of the symptoms which indicate a person may have systemic sclerosis include:

  •   Skin thickening or tightening.
  •    Exaggerated sensitivity to cold temperatures that causes numbness, pain and color changes in fingers and toes. Known as Raynaud’s syndrome, this is one of the earliest indications of systemic sclerosis.
  •   Enlarged red blood vessels on the hands, face and around nail beds.
  •   Calcium deposits in the skin or other areas of the body.
  •   Digestive problems such as acid reflux, difficulty swallowing or poor absorption of nutrients.
  •   High blood pressure from kidney problems.
  •   Shortness of breath.
  •   Fatigue.
  •   Joint pain.


Though the underlying cause of systemic sclerosis is unknown, the condition results from an overproduction and accumulation of collagen in the system.

Collagen is a protein that makes up the body’s connective tissues, including the skin. Current research is promising and hopes to clarify and understand the connection between the immune system and systemic sclerosis.


Unfortunately, there are no drugs at this time to stop or reverse skin hardening, and drugs that work for other autoimmune diseases such as arthritis and lupus have been unsuccessful in treating systemic sclerosis.

Doctors focus treatment on managing and controlling individual symptoms and preventing complications, including the following:

  •    Medications to enlarge narrowed blood vessels and improve blood flow to hands and feet.
  •   Antacid drugs and other medications to ease gastrointestinal problems.
  •   Medications to lower blood pressure and control damage to the kidneys.
  •   Anti-inflammatories for muscle pain and weakness.
  •   Physical therapy and occupational therapy to maintain joint flexibility and prevent loss of function.


Systemic sclerosis causes many daily challenges for those living with this condition.

In addition to managing pain and physical limitations, changes in appearance will affect a person’s self-image and self-esteem. Strong support from family and friends is vital.


The Social Security Administration recognizes systemic sclerosis as an impairment in its Blue Book under Section 14.00 Immune System Disorders:

3. Systemic sclerosis (scleroderma) (14.04).

  1.   General. Systemic sclerosis (scleroderma) constitutes a spectrum of disease in which thickening of the skin is the clinical hallmark. Raynaud’s phenomenon, often medically severe and progressive, is present frequently and may be the peripheral manifestation of a vasospastic abnormality in the heart, lungs, and kidneys. The CREST syndrome (calcinosis, Raynaud’s phenomenon, esophageal dysmotility, sclerodactyly, and telangiectasia) is a variant that may slowly progress over years to the generalized process, systemic sclerosis.
  2.   Diffuse cutaneous systemic sclerosis. In diffuse cutaneous systemic sclerosis (also known as diffuse scleroderma), major organ or systemic involvement can include the gastrointestinal tract, lungs, heart, kidneys, and muscle in addition to skin or blood vessels. Although arthritis can occur, joint dysfunction results primarily from soft tissue/cutaneous thickening, fibrosis, and contractures.
  3. Experienced Social Security Lawyer

  4.    Localized scleroderma (linear scleroderma and morphea).


To be eligible for Social Security disability benefits, you must be able to provide medical documentation that you meet the Social Security definition as listed in its Blue Book:

14.04 Systemic sclerosis (scleroderma) As described in 14.00D3. With:

A. Involvement of two or more organs/body systems, with:

  1.   One of the organs/body systems involved to at least a moderate level of severity; and
  2.   At least two of the constitutional symptoms or signs (severe fatigue, fever, malaise, or involuntary weight loss).

OR
B. With one of the following:

  1.    Toe contractures or fixed deformity of one or both feet, resulting in the inability to ambulate effectively as defined in 14.00C6; or
  2.    Finger contractures or fixed deformity in both hands, resulting in the inability to perform fine and gross movements effectively as defined in 14.00C7; or
  3.   Atrophy with irreversible damage in one or both lower extremities, resulting in the inability to ambulate effectively as defined in 14.00C6; or
  4.   Atrophy with irreversible damage in both upper extremities, resulting in the inability to perform fine and gross movements effectively as defined in 14.00C7.

OR
C. Raynaud’s phenomenon, characterized by:

  1.    Gangrene involving at least two extremities; or
  2.    Ischemia with ulcerations of toes or fingers, resulting in the inability to ambulate effectively or to perform fine and gross movements effectively as defined in 14.00C6 and 14.00C7;

OR
D. Repeated manifestations of systemic sclerosis (scleroderma), with at least two of the constitutional symptoms or signs (severe fatigue, fever, malaise, or involuntary weight loss) and one of the following at the marked level:

  1.    Limitation of activities of daily living.
  2.   Limitation in maintaining social functioning.
  3.   Limitation in completing tasks in a timely manner due to deficiencies in concentration, persistence, or pace.


If you have systemic scleroderma and it has affected your ability to work, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

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.

  1.   The Duration of Work test.   Whether you have worked long enough to be covered under SSDI.
  2.   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.

  1.   Are you working?   Your disability must be “total”.
  2.   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.
  3.   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.
  4.   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.
  5.   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.

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Disability benefits are an important source of income for those who are unable to work. If you 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.


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