Overview of Disability
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Winning Disability Benefits
Common Mistakes after a Denial
Mental Disability Benefits
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Disability Benefits from SSA
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Working and Disability
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Disability Lawyers, Hiring Attorneys
Social Security List of Conditions
What Social Security considers disabling
Medical Evidence and Disability
Filing for Disability Benefits
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SSD SSI Definitions
SSDRC authored by Tim Moore
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Applying for disability with Rheumatoid Arthritis
First, a bit about the condition
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disorder that causes the immune system to attack the joints, resulting in inflammation of the lining, or synovium, of the joints. It can also affect other areas of the body, such as the skin, eyes and lungs. Rheumatoid arthritis causes pain, stiffness, redness, warmth and swelling around the joints, causing the lining to thicken and eventually release enzymes that begin to digest the cartilage and bone.
If this happens, there is a loss of alignment, pain and sometimes a loss of movement. Because it is a chronic disease, it progresses as time passes, although early detection and treatment can help those with the disease to live more productive lives.
It has been estimated that rheumatoid arthritis affects 2.1 million Americans or 1 percent of the United States population.
The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown. It is suspected that fungi, bacteria and viruses are the cause, but there has been no proof to this theory. It could be genetic, have environmental causes or be due to certain infections, but whatever the cause, the immune system attacks the body’s tissues and results in inflammation. Some scientists believe that smoking tobacco could increase the risk, but again there has not been undisputed proof.
The symptoms of the disease come and go, due to the tissues being inflamed. When the tissues are not inflamed, the disease is not active. Symptoms include stiffness, muscle aches, joint aches, fatigue, lack of appetite and a low-grade fever.
Rheumatoid arthritis is diagnosed by blood tests and X-rays. There is a specific blood test for the disease called rheumatoid factor, which is most often used. There are also specific doctors, rheumatologists, which specialize in connective tissues and diseases of the joints.
There are many treatments available from physical therapy, occupational therapy and anti-inflammatory drugs and steroids, to disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDS) such as methotrexate and sulfasalazine. If there is a severe amount of inflammation, loss of movement and deformity, there may be a need for surgery. The lungs, kidneys, heart, blood vessels and skin can also develop many separate issues due to rheumatoid arthritis.
Since the disease is chronic, it is estimated that after 5 years about 33 percent of those with rheumatoid arthritis will not be working and after 10 years, nearly half will be disabled due to the disease. It has been estimated that those with disease can expect a lifespan reduction of about 5 to 10 years.
Filing for disability with Rheumatoid Arthritis
If you are considering an application for Social Security disability and you have rheumatoid arthritis there are some things you need to know about disability determination process.
The first and one of the most important factors involved in applying for disability benefits is work activity. You cannot be working and earning over the SGA monthly earnings limit. The SGA limit changes each year so please verify the limit before you apply. If you are earning over the SGA limit, your disability claim will be denied with a technical denial meaning without it ever being sent for a medical evaluation.
If you have satisfied the work aspect of the Social Security disability program, you should apply for disability. Social Security disability examiners use a disability guidebook known as the blue book to evaluate all disability claims. This book contains impairment listings for all body systems. The impairment listings contain the criteria needed to meet or equal the severity requirements for your particular condition.
In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, disability examiners use impairment listing 14.09 (Immune System disorders are evaluated under 14.00) Inflammatory Arthritis
You must have a diagnosis of inflammatory arthritis (Rheumatoid arthritis, Sjorgren’s syndrome, psoriatic arthritis, gout, pseudogout, Lyme disease, and inflammatory bowel disease). Generally, you will need to have clinical and serologic (blood work) findings to document your diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.
In order to meet the requirements of the listing 14.09 A, you could have persistent inflammation or deformity of one or more of the peripheral weight bearing joints that result in severe limitation of you ability to ambulate effectively.
Or, one or more of the major peripheral joints in each upper extremity that results in limitations so significant that it causes severe limitations with fine and gross movements.
You could meet or equal the requirements of 14.09 B, if you have persistent inflammation or deformity in one or more peripheral joints with:
1. Involvement of two or more organs/ body systems with at least one of the organs/body systems having a moderate level of severity; and
2. At least two of the following constitutional symptoms or signs (fever, malaise, severe fatigue, or involuntary weight loss). Or
There are other parts of this impairment listing that would be used to evaluate other types of inflammatory arthritis, however the above would most likely be the criteria used to meet or equal the listing if you have rheumatoid arthritis.
It was my experience as a Social Security disability examiner that many individuals with rheumatoid arthritis were not able to meet or equal the criteria of the impairment listing but they could be approved through a medical vocational allowance due to the severity of their limitations.
Medical vocational allowances not only allow disability examiners to consider not only an individual’s residual functional ability (what they are able to do in spite of the limitations imposed upon them by their disability), but also their age, education, and the requirements of their most recent work and their past work (15 years of work are considered in most disability cases) when making their disability determination.
If you are unable to perform any of the requirements of your past work and your limitations are so severe that they would prevent any other kind of work, you may be able to be approved for disability benefits.
Return to: Social Security Disability Resource Center, or read answers to Questions
Related Body System Impairments:
Am I disabled with degenerative arthritis, bone spurs in neck, spine and hips, and joint space narrowing?
Will Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and arthritis in my hands qualify for disability?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Filing for Disability
Osteoarthritis and Filing for Disability
Repetitive Stress Injury and Filing for Disability
Facet Arthritis and Filing for Disability
Polymyalgia Rheumatica and Filing for Disability
Rheumatoid Arthritis, Social Security Disability, and Applying for Benefits
Psoriatic Arthritis and Filing for Disability
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Filing for Disability
Arthralgia and Filing for Disability
Information on the following topics can be found here: Social Security Disability Questions and in these subsections:
Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits | FAQ on Disability Claim Representation | Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved | FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions | The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration | Disability hearings before Judges | Medical exams for disability claims | Applying for Disability in various states | Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers | Applying for Disability in North Carolina | Recent articles and answers to questions about SSD and SSI
These pages answer some of the most basic questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim.
Filing for disability - How to file for SSD or SSI and the Information that is needed by Social Security
How to Apply for Disability - What medical conditions can you apply and qualify for?
Applying for Disability - How long does it take to get Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?
What happens if I file a disability application and it is denied by a disability examiner or Judge?
How to Prove you are disabled and qualify to win disability benefits
How do you prove your disability case if you have a mental condition or impairment?
Social Security Disability Back pay and How Long it Takes to Qualify for it and receive it
Social Security Disability SSI - Eligibility Requirements and Qualifications Criteria