Rheumatoid Arthritis SSDIYes, people with severe rheumatoid arthritis may qualify for Social Security disability benefits. But, a simple diagnosis is not enough on its own. Applicants must meet certain criteria. This includes medical evidence supporting the claim that they are unable to work. The Social Security Administration (SSA) also outlines several non-medical requirements. The application process can feel overwhelming. Consulting with an experienced disability lawyer can clarify any questions you may have. They can also help improve your chances of approval. 

Common Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

A chronic inflammatory disorder, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), most commonly affects the joints. Smaller joints are often affected first, like in the fingers, hands, toes, and feet. RA can then spread to hips, shoulders, knees, and elbows. It can also affect other body systems, like the skin, eyes, heart, lungs, and blood vessels. 

Common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may include:

  • Painful swelling of the joints
  • Bone erosion and joint deformities
  • Joint stiffness, especially after periods of inactivity
  • Fatigue, fever, and loss of appetite
  • Mobility issues and inability to grip items effectively

Overview of Eligibile Disability Benefits

The SSA runs two main programs providing benefits to people with disabilities. The application processes and medical requirements are similar for both programs. The two programs are Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplementary Security Income (SSI). People with severe rheumatoid arthritis may be eligible for either program. 

Social Security Disability Insurance

People who have paid FICA taxes may qualify for SSDI. The program is based on a person’s Social Security earnings history. It is not needs-based. Monthly disability benefits may continue as long as the person cannot work. This may extend to retirement age.

Supplementary Security Income

Unlike SSDI, Supplementary Security Income (SSI) is a needs-based emergency program. SSI applicants do not need to meet employment history requirements. Instead, they must prove their financial need. SSI is often supplemented by other government assistance, like food stamps. 

How Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)

Applicants must prove they are unable to work to qualify for either disability program. The SSA defines “disability” as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA). This means the person is not only unable to perform the job they had but also any relevant job at all. This must be expected to last for at least 12 months. Criteria for the type of possible work become less stringent for older individuals. 

Someone may be able to overcome a mild case of inflammatory arthritis. But, severe rheumatoid arthritis can be very debilitating. A person may not be able to engage in manual labor. They may lack the dexterity in their fingers to work on a computer. Prolonged bouts of fatigue may force them to take extended time off work. In effect, they may not be able to engage in substantial gainful activity. 

The SSA defines substantial gainful activity (SGA) based on earned income. For 2023, the maximum income threshold for SGA is $1,470 monthly for most people. For blind individuals, the monthly amount is $2,460. The SSA adjusts the SGA amount for inflation each year. 

SSDI and SSI Eligibility for Rheumatoid Arthritis

To qualify for Social Security disability, applicants should meet the Blue Book definition of rheumatoid arthritis. The SSA lists the condition in Section 14.00. This describes adult immune system disorders. More specifically, section 14.09 outlines the spectrum of inflammatory arthritis. It discusses difficulties with fine and gross movements. This includes arthritis involving the peripheral joints. A skilled disability lawyer can explain these criteria to you. 

Whether or not you meet the SSA Blue Book listing, it is vital to provide supporting medical evidence. This may include a residual functioning capacity (RFC) assessment. This looks into a person’s ability to perform any work. Lab results, medical reports, and doctor’s letters can support your claim. 

Keep up with the rheumatoid arthritis treatments prescribed by your doctor. This shows you are doing everything you can to reduce RA symptoms. The SSA will want to know about your medical history, including medications. Rheumatoid arthritis can be an invisible disability. So, offering compelling evidence is absolutely vital. 

Experienced Legal Advice to Help You Apply

A loss of income due to disability can be very stressful. Navigating the application process for Social Security benefits can be confusing. Suffering the daily challenges of severe rheumatoid arthritis isn’t easy either. Allow the skilled team at Keefe Disability Law to put your mind at ease. 

An experienced disability lawyer can streamline the application process. They can present the strongest case possible to the SSA. We can explain non-medical requirements for SSDI, like having accrued enough work credits. Our team can suggest what documentation to include as part of your disability application. SSDI denials are common. Our team is also prepared to help you navigate the complex appeals process. Let us help you get the rightful benefits you deserve. 

Patrick Hartwig
Connect with me
Managing Attorney, Keefe Disability Law