Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States. There are over 100 different types of arthritis or arthritis-related conditions, and the Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 50 million Americans suffer from them. So, if you are one of those 50 million Americans, can you qualify for disability benefits under Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) due to your arthritis?
Possibly, but it is not enough to show that you have been diagnosed with arthritis—you must also show that your arthritis is so severe that you cannot work, either due to pain or limited movement. The severity of arthritis varies on a case-by-case basis, and it is essential that your treating physician documents your arthritis diagnosis as well as the many ways your arthritis impedes you and makes work an impossibility.
Generally speaking, arthritis is an inflammation of the joints and their surrounding tissues. It most often affects the hands, knees, back, hips, and spine and can occur naturally or be the result of an injury. Your chances of being approved for benefits increase if your arthritis is untreatable, severely debilitating, persistent, and/or prevents you from earning a living for at least one year.
The two most common types of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder wherein your immune system attacks the membranes surrounding your joints and causes them to become inflamed. This kind of arthritis is most commonly found in women between the ages of 40 and 60, smokers, and those with a family history of RA. If you have RA, you will need to prove that your joint movement is limited and that you experience persistent pain and swelling.
Osteoarthritis is caused when the cartilage at the ends of your bones breaks down, and the results include swelling, reduced range of motion in the affected joints, pain and stiffness, and muscle weakness. If you have osteoarthritis, you will need to prove that the condition causes you to experience significant problems standing or walking and limits your ability to move your arms and hands.
Like all diseases with the potential to qualify you for disability benefits through Social Security, the many kinds of arthritis have their own Blue Book Listings. If you meet the criteria in the Listings, you automatically qualify for benefits. For inflammatory arthritis (like the two types mentioned above), you will qualify for disability benefits if there is: 1) persistent inflammation or deformity of major joints; 2) inflammation or deformity of the spine and/or its surrounding organs; 3) inflammation or deformity of joints along with organ systems; or 4) repeated episodes of inflammatory arthritis that limit your social functioning, daily life, and movement.
You may still qualify for benefits on the basis of your arthritis even if you do not meet the Listings but, rather, meet the criteria for a medical vocational allowance. In instances of a medical vocational allowance, Social Security determines that, although your arthritis does not rise to the level of the Listings, it is severe enough that you should qualify for benefits anyway. Before Social Security will make this determination, you must have been receiving medical treatment for your arthritis for at least three months.