Autoimmune Diseases and Social Security Disability
Social Security disability benefits are available for people who have significant medical problems that prevent them from working, if they:
- Are currently not working, or are working but are unable to earn very much (currently around $1,000 gross a month);
- If under 50, are unable to sustain any full time job that exists in the country: 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, week after week, at a competitive pace and quality, with no unusual amount of unplanned absences; (the rules are a bit easier and different at 50+);
- Are unable to return to work they have done in the past.
For some autoimmune diseases (and for other medical conditions) Social Security accepts that if the person has the diagnosis and symptoms that meet special criteria – called a “Listing” – for severity, disability benefits should be awarded almost automatically.
There are Listings or possible related Listings for some autoimmune diseases: Lupus, Systemic vasculitis, Scleroderma (systemic sclerosis), Takayasu’s arteritis, giant cell arteritis, Wegener’s granulomatosis, Raynaud’s, CREST, esophageal dysmotility, Shulman’s disease, morphea, polymyositis, dermatomyositis, undifferentiated and mixed connective tissue disease, Crohn’s, inflammatory arthritis, Reiter’s, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, Whipple’s, Behçet’s, Sjögren’s, psoriatic arthritis, gout, Lyme disease, other inflammatory bowel diseases, Feity’s, and more.
Depending on the medical problem, you will have to show:
- The effects and side effects of medications
- Intrusiveness and complexity of treatment
- Effects of treatment on mental functioning
- Interactive and cumulative effect of diseases and treatments
- Duration of treatment
- Variability of response to treatment
- Functional limitations
- Severity of symptoms
A key to any Social Security disability case is documentation of the diagnosis the treatment and response, and the symptom severity and functional limitations, preferably in your medical records. You should take a current, updated list of symptoms and functional limitations to each visit with your rheumatologist, primary care doctors, and other doctors, even if the symptoms and limitations are well known to the doctor.
Legal Assistance Is Helpful
This year, Social Security will receive 3.5 million applications for disability benefits and deny 2/3rds of them. Unfortunately, many of these people have good cases but they – or their doctors – do not know what information Social Security requires but doesn’t ask for clearly.
Ideally, you should hire someone who meets with you in person, specializes in disability claims, and who you can work with comfortably.