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Social Security Disability Benefits For Rheumatoid Arthritis
I have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Can I apply for Social Security Disability benefits (SSI/SSDI), Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB), or Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI)?
Have you received a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis? This is just the start. The main focus in a Social Security disability claim is usually on the symptoms you experience from rheumatoid arthritis and how those symptoms affect your ability to engage in physical and mental work-related activities eight (8) hours per day, five (5) days per week (full-time).
Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disorder, which means that your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks your own tissues – in this case, your joints. As a result, the lining of your joints get inflamed (swollen), causing you pain. This can also lead to damage to other parts of your body such as your bones and blood vessels, and even to organs like the lungs, heart, and skin.
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis typically include swollen, tender, and warm joints; stiff joints especially in the mornings; and fatigue. Joint pain usually starts with smaller joints such as in your fingers, then gradually progresses into bigger ones such as in the wrists, elbows, knees, ankles, and shoulders. Many patients also develop a fever and lose weight.
Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Considered a Disability?
Rheumatoid arthritis is often painful. To confirm that this condition is disabling you, the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a 5-step process.
Step 1. Are you working?
First, the SSA checks your current work activity. If you are engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), you will not be found disabled. The amount you must earn to be working at SGA changes each year. For 2018 it is $1,180 per month if you are not blind and $1,970 per month if you are blind. If you are working, and your earnings average more than the SGA limit, then you will not be found disabled. But if you are not working, or if your earnings are less than SGA, the process proceeds to Step 2 where the SSA further evaluates your rheumatoid arthritis and any other physical or mental conditions.
Step 2. Is your medical condition “severe”?
By SSA standards, disability entails that your medical condition significantly limits your ability to do basic work activities such as sitting; standing; walking; lifting; carrying; understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple instructions; making simple work-related decisions; responding appropriately to supervision, co-workers, and work stress; and dealing with changes in a routine work setting.
For the SSA to consider you disabled, you must have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment (or a combination of impairments) that is severe and has lasted or is expected last one (1) year or end in death. If your medical condition is not that severe, you will not be found to meet the requirements for Social Security disability benefits. But if your condition is that severe, the SSA proceeds to the third step.
Step 3. Does your medical condition meet or equal the severity of a “listing”?
A “listing” refers to an item that’s included in the list of the Social Security Administration. This list is all about the medical criteria that are considered to be so severe that you will be found disabled if your medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) matches them. The Adult Listing for rheumatoid arthritis can be found here.
If your impairment does not meet or equal any of the listings, or if the duration requirement is not met, the SSA looks instead into your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). This refers to what you’re capable of doing despite your impairments.
RFC is a function-by-function assessment of your maximum ability to do sustained work-related physical and mental activities on a regular and continuing basis (8 hours a day, for 5 days a week) despite the limitations and restrictions resulting from your medically determinable impairments. In short, it is an evaluation of your capacity for full-time work.
Step 4. Can you do any of the jobs you have performed in the past fifteen (15) years?
The SSA then checks if your rheumatoid arthritis prevents you from working full-time at any of the jobs you’ve had in the last fifteen (15) years. If the SSA sees that you can perform any of your past relevant work (PRW), you will be found not disabled. To be PRW, the work must have been substantial gainful activity (SGA); performed in the fifteen (15) year relevant period; and performed long enough to learn the job. If the SSA decides you cannot perform your past relevant work, or if you have not worked in the past fifteen (15) years, the process proceeds to the next step.
Still here at Step 4, you are required to present evidence – or in legal terms, you have the burden of proof. Two of the strongest types of evidence at this stage are medical records and the opinions of the doctors who are treating you for the conditions that are affecting your ability to work. The strongest medical evidence is what is known as objective medical evidence, or evidence that does not rely upon what you tell your doctors. The strongest opinions are opinions that are offered by doctors who specialize in the condition that is keeping you from working, and are also backed by objective medical evidence.
In claiming disability based on rheumatoid arthritis, these are some types of objective medical evidence that can support your claim:
- General clinical records
- Documentation of medically prescribed treatment and response
- Imaging results (MRI, CT scan, or x-ray)
- Clinical notes of specialists
Doctors and professionals who specialize in treating rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Rheumatologists – These are medical doctors who focus in arthritis and other joint problems.
- Orthopedists – These are medical doctors who specialize in bone or joint damage.
- Physical therapists or Occupational therapists – Though they aren’t doctors, they are trained to help you restore your movements and function.
If you are only treating with your family doctor or primary care doctor for your rheumatoid arthritis, this could be a sign for SSA that your condition is not that serious (otherwise you would be treating with a specialist). Even if you don’t have health insurance, an experienced Social Security disability lawyer can help you locate sources of treatment.
Step 5. Can you do any other type of work?
The burden of proof shifts to the SSA at this stage. If you cannot do your past relevant work, the SSA looks to see if you would be able to do other work. It evaluates your medical condition, your age, education, past work experience, and any skills you may have that could be used to do other work. If you can do other work, the SSA will determine you are not disabled. But if you cannot do other work, the SSA will find you disabled.
If you are older than 50, there are special rules that may apply to your claim that can result in a finding of disability even if there is some other work you could perform on a full-time basis. An experienced Social Security disability lawyer will be familiar with these rules and can ensure that they are considered in your claim evaluation.
Rheumatoid arthritis is common and often confused with other body pains. But as you may know, it is painfully debilitating. It is unfortunate that many people with this disease have not accessed the relief they need and deserve.
Contact Gillette Law Group
Don’t be discouraged – you may still have a good chance to receive disability benefits. Whether this is your first time applying or you are appealing a denied application, we at the Gillette Law Group can help you succeed. We have enabled numerous applicants like you build effective disability claims with high chances of getting approved by the SSA.
Don’t wait to pursue your Social Security disability claim. We provide you with a free consultation, so talk to us today at (855) 873-2604.