Can I get SSD OR SSI for RA, Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Social Security considers rheumatoid arthritis to be a valid medical condition for SSD and SSI disability applications. RA can be found under the classification of Immune System Disorders and is evaluated under the SSA Blue Book listing 14.09 Inflammatory Arthritis, which is discussed on SSDRC Applying for disability with Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Immune system impairments are defined by the Social Security Administration as being disorders of the immune system that are caused by dysfunctional immune responses that are directed against your body's own tissues, resulting in chronic multisystem impairments. They sometimes are referred to as rheumatic diseases, connective tissue disorders, or collagen vascular disorders.
Rheumatoid arthritis most often involves the peripheral joints (lower back, hips, knees, hands and fingers, and feet and toes) and causes pain and stiffness. While this condition is considered a severe medical condition that is addressed in a blue book impairment listing, it is not enough just to have a diagnosis of RA.
All Social Security medical determinations require you to prove that you have a severe physical or mental impairment that prevents the performance of SGA level work. You can show this through the evidence contained in your medical records. If you have RA there should be imaging tests (MRI, CT scans, or X-rays) showing severe damage to peripheral joints along with blood tests. If your rheumatoid arthritis meets or equals the standards contained in the impairment listing you will qualify for disability provided you are not performing SGA. If not, you may still be approved for disability benefits if you can prove that your arthritis significantly impairs your ability to perform SGA.
Social Security may be able to approve you through a medical vocational allowance by considering your age, education, limitations, and the information contained in your vocational work history: specifically the types of work you have done, the functional requirements required by each job, as well as the skills you might possess that could enable your to transition to some other type of work. If your RA causes you to be unable to perform any of past work and they find that you are unable to transition to another kind of work you might be approved for disability.
More on getting disability for Rheumatoid Arthritis when you cannot work
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.
Related: Requirements for Filing for disability with rheumatoid arthritis
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 (such as, for example, no SGA increase for the year 2011 due to the preceding year, 2010).
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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