Can I get SSI for RA, Rheumatoid Arthritis?

You can collect Supplemental Security Income disability benefits (SSI), or SSD (Social Security Disability benefits) disability benefits for rheumatoid arthritis or for any other medically diagnosed physical or mental condition provided that your medical records can show that your symptoms are severe enough to prevent you from working at a substantial and gainful level.

Social Security defines a substantial and gainful level as the ability to earn at least a certain monetary gross income wage each month, called the substantial gainful activity, or SGA, amount. The Social Security Administration sets this amount each year, usually increasing it according to the Price/Wage Index to reflect increases in the cost of living, inflation, etc.--though in some rare years it will not increase due to zero measured inflation.

If your medical records indicate that you have been diagnosed with RA, and that your condition makes it impossible for you to earn the SGA at your current job or any other job despite available medical treatments (NSAIDs, corticosteroids, etc.), then you may qualify for disability. However, the medical records must also show that your symptoms are not likely to improve for a total period of 12 months or more.

The important thing to remember when you file for Social Security Disability (SSD) or SSI is that the disability examiner (or administrative law judge if you have appealed past denials to the hearing level) is not concerned with your particular ailment, but how it limits your ability to function.

For instance, even if a claimant with rheumatoid arthritis is no longer able to perform jobs that include significant typing or computer work, the decision-maker (depending on the level of the claim, this would be a disability examiner or a federal administrative law judge) in the case may conclude that the claimant's residual functional capacity rating (a determination of what the claimant can still do despite their condition) allows them to perform either:

A) work they have done in the past or

B) some type of other work which they might be able to transfer their existing work skills to.

For RA, as with all other types of physical and mental impairments, disability is not awarded to those who have merely been diagnosed, but to those with medical records showing that their limitations 1) prevent them from performing any type of gainful employment, and 2) are severe and ongoing, and unlikely to improve in the near future.

In light of this, be sure to be specific when it comes to the work history included with your initial application for disability. List not only the names and contact information for past employers, but your title and the duties you performed in that capacity. This will prevent the disability examiner from assuming that you have knowledge, education or work skills that you do not, and also decrease the chance that you will be denied based on your ability to perform or be trained for some other work.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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