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Applying for disability with Rheumatoid Arthritis

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.

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.

Essential Questions

What is the Social Security Disability SSI list of impairments?

Can you work while getting or applying for Disability?

How Often Does Social Security Approve Disability The First Time You Apply?

Tips for getting Social Security Disability or SSI benefits approved

What medical conditions will get you approved for disability?

What kind of Mental Problems Qualify for Disability?

Receiving a Disability Award Letter

Conditions Social Security will recognize as a disability

Previously answered questions regarding SSD and SSI

Applying for disability in your state

Most popular topics on SSDRC.com

Social Security Disability SSI Questions

The listings, list of disabling impairments

Can a mental illness qualify you for disability?

Disability Lawyers prevent unnecessary denials

How much Social Security Disability SSI back pay?

How to apply for disability for a child or children

Filing a Social Security Disability SSI application

Filing for disability - when to file

How to apply for disability - where to apply

Qualifications for disability benefits

How to Prove you are disabled and Win your Disability Benefits

Qualifying for Disability - The Process

How to get disability for depression

Getting disability for fibromyalgia

SSI disability for children with ADHD

What is the Application Process for Social Security Disability and SSI?

Common Mistakes to avoid after being denied for Disability

Social Security Disability SSI Exam tips

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Related Body System Impairments:

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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
Getting a Disability Lawyer in Alabama
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These pages answer some of the most basic questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim.

Can you get temporary Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?

Permanent Social Security Disability

What is the difference between Social Security Disability and SSI?

Who is eligible for SSI disability?

Can I Be Eligible For SSI And Social Security Disability At The Same Time?

What makes a person eligible to receive disability benefits?

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?

For the sake of clarity, SSDRC.com is not the Social Security Administration, nor is it associated or affiliated with SSA. This site is a personal, private website that is published, edited, and maintained by former caseworker and former disability claims examiner, Tim Moore, who was interviewed by the New York Times on the topic of Social Security Disability and SSI benefits in an article entitled "The Disability Mess" and also by the Los Angeles Times on the subject of political attempts to weaken the Social Security Disability system.

The goal of the site is to provide information about how Social Security Disability and SSI work, the idea being that qualified information may help claimants pursue their claims and appeals, potentially avoiding time-consuming mistakes. If you find the information on this site helpful and believe it would be helpful to others, feel free to share links to its homepage or other pages on website resource pages, blogs, or social media. Copying of this material, however, is prohibited.

To learn more about the author, please visit the SSDRC.com homepage and view the "about this site" link near the bottom of the page.