How to Qualify for Disability Benefits When You Have Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that occurs when a person’s own immune system attacks the membranes around the joints, causing inflammation, pain and often disability. Rheumatoid arthritis has many victims, but most commonly it affects those between the ages of 40 and 60, women, smokers, and people who have a family history of the condition.

Qualifying for Social Security Disability When You Suffer From Rheumatoid Arthritis

Doctor examining patient with rhrumatoid arthritisThe Social Security Administration recognizes rheumatoid arthritis as a condition that can impair a patient’s ability to work. As a result, those who suffer from moderate to severe cases of this condition may qualify for disability benefits pursuant to the Listing of Impairments.  In order to qualify in this way, sufferers must meet at least one of the following criteria set forth by the Social Security Administration. Specifically, rheumatoid arthritis must:

  1. Be present in a joint in the legs that causes significant difficulties walking.
  2. Affect joints in both arms, preventing the ability to perform most of the tasks that use the arms.
  3. Cause inflammation or a permanent deformity to exist in one or more major joints and at least two organs or body symptoms. As a result, at least two of the following four symptoms must occur: severe fatigue, malaise, weight loss, or fever.
  4. Result in ankylosing spondylitis or another spondyloarthropathy that fuses the spine by at least 45 degrees. If less than 45 degrees, the fixation of the spine must be at least 30 degrees and also be accompanied by moderate involvement of at least two body systems.
  5. Repeated flare-ups of the rheumatoid arthritis occur, along with at least two symptoms that cause limitations in the ability to perform activities of daily living, function socially, or complete tasks.

The Social Security Administration’s medical listings for this condition are found in various places in the Listing of Impairments and they are extensive and complicated. If you are unable to meet the criteria, all hope is not lost.

Qualifying for Social Security Disability Based on the Medical-Vocational Grid

Victims of rheumatoid arthritis can also qualify for Social Security disability benefits if they can convince the Social Security Administration that they are unable to perform consistent work. To qualify in this way:

  1. The Social Security Administration will assign an applicant a “Residual Functional Capacity” or RFC, which is the heaviest type of work the Administration feels he could perform.
  2. Once the applicant is assigned an RFC, the claim examiner will take into account the applicant’s age, level of education, and the type of work he performed in the past, in order to determine whether he is disabled.
  3. The claim examiner uses the medical-vocational grid set forth by the Social Security Administration in order to make the decision about whether the applicant can work.

It is important to be prepared for this analysis and to present the Social Security Administration with the information it needs.

Medical Evidence of Rheumatoid Arthritis

When the Social Security Administration is assessing your claim, it will consider:

  1. A diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis from a physician.
  2. Detailed notes from your doctor regarding the frequency and severity of your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
  3. A complete history of all of the treatments you have tried for your rheumatoid arthritis, including the results of those treatments.
  4. Results from any tests, including imaging studies, that were used to measure the range of motion of your spine.
  5. Results from any blood tests that indicate rheumatoid arthritis. For example, a positive rheumatoid-factor blood test may indicate that the condition is present.

Applying for Social Security disability benefits as a result of rheumatoid arthritis can feel like an overwhelming process. Fortunately, there are many resources available to help. We encourage you to start by viewing our free guide, Social Security Disability: What You Need to Know, and to contact us directly to get your questions answered.

Carl M. Weisbrod
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Managing Partner of Morgan & Weisbrod, Board Certified in Social Security Disability Law