Facts about Polychondritis and Filing for Disability
These selected pages answer some of the most basic, but also some of the most important, questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim for disability benefits.
Facts about the condition
1. Polychondritis is characterized by cartilage deterioration and inflammation in the body - most often in the ears, nose, and trachea (windpipe), but also in the joints, eyes, spine, blood vessels and heart. It is a serious, chronic, and progressive disease. It is also episodic and most often referred to as 'relapsing polychondritis'.
2. Polychondritis is also known as atrophic polychondritis, chronic atrophic polychondritis, systemic chondromalacia, von Meyenburg's disease, Meyenburg-Altherr-Uehlinger syndrome, systemic chondromalacia, and generalized chondromalacia.
3. Polychondritis is more prevalent in whites, but can be found in all races. It can be found in all age groups, but most often is found in those in their 50's. It is thought to be more prevalent in females, but only slightly.
4. Inflammation due to polychondritis can cause deformity in the ears (floppy ears) and nose (saddle nose). It can also cause cataracts in the eyes, and breathing issues when it affects the windpipe.
5. Symptoms of polychondritis include fever, pain, swollen and red ears, high white blood cell count, difficulties with vision, eye inflammation, collapsed nasal bridge, joint pain or tenderness, nasal congestion, fatigue, inner ear inflammation, and more. Less common symptoms include inflammation of the heart tissue and tissue around the heart, heart valve abnormalities, aortic inflammation, and kidney dysfunction and inflammation.
6. The cause is unknown, though it is thought that polychondritis may be an auto immune disease. Those with polychondritis often have an autoimmune disorder as well.
7. There are no specific tests to determine and diagnose polychondritis, and treatment can be unpredictable but usually involves nonsterioidal anti-inflammatory drugs and cortisone-related medications.
8. Polychondritis is a serious disease, and although it can be mild for some patients and controlled with medications, in others it can be fatal due to aneurysm and aortic valve weakness. It may also cause hearing loss.
Qualifying for disability benefits with this condition
Whether or not you qualify for disability and, as a result, are approved for disability benefits will depend entirely on the information obtained from your medical records.
This includes whatever statements and treatment notes that may have been obtained from your treating physician (a doctor who has a history of treating your condition and is, therefore, qualified to comment as to your condition and prognosis). It also includes discharge summaries from hospital stays, reports of imaging studies (such as xrays, MRIs, and CT scans) and lab panels (i.e. bloodwork) as well as reports from physical therapy.
In many disability claims, it may also include the results of a report issued by an independent physician who examines you at the request of the Social Security Administration.
Qualifying for SSD or SSI benefits will also depend on the information obtained from your vocational, or work, history if you are an adult, or academic records if you are a minor-age child. In the case of adults, your work history information will allow a disability examiner (examiners make decisions at the initial claim and reconsideration appeal levels, but not at the hearing level where a judges decides the outcome of the case) to A) classify your past work, B) determine the physical and mental demands of your past work, C) decide if you can go back to a past job, and D) whether or not you have the ability to switch to some type of other work.
The important thing to keep in mind is that the social security administration does not award benefits based on simply having a condition, but, instead, will base an approval or denial on the extent to which a condition causes functional limitations. Functional limitations can be great enough to make work activity not possible (or, for a child, make it impossible to engage in age-appropriate activities).
Why are so many disability cases lost at the disability application and reconsideration appeal levels?
There are several reasons but here are just two:
1) Social Security makes no attempt to obtain a statement from a claimant's treating physician. By contrast, at the hearing level, a claimant's disability attorney or disability representative will generally obtain and present this type of statement to a judge.
Note: it is not enough for a doctor to simply state that their patient is disabled. To satisy Social Security's requirements, the physician must list in what ways and to what extent the individual is functionally limited. For this reason, many representatives and attorneys request that the physician fill out and sign a specialized medical source statement that captures the correct information. Solid Supporting statements from physicians easily make the difference between winning or losing a disability case at the hearing level.
2) Prior to the hearing level, a claimant will not have the opportunity to explain how their condition limits them, nor will their attorney or representative have the opportunity to make a presentation based on the evidence of the case. This is because at the initial levels of the disability system, a disability examiner decides the case without meeting the claimant. The examiner may contact the claimant to gather information on activities of daily living and with regard to medical treatment or past jobs, but usually nothing more. At the hearing level, however, presenting an argument for approval based on medical evidence that has been obtained and submitted is exactly what happens.
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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