Arthritis is a condition that affects more than 54 million people in the United States alone—that’s 23% of all adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a result of this condition’s impacts, the medical costs and lost wages reach over $300 billion annually.
The CDC also found that for nearly 8 million of those affected by arthritis, the impacts are so severe that their ability to work is limited.
If this is you, you may be thinking about consulting Social Security disability lawyers and seeking benefits.
Two common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, which are more common in people over the age of 65, women, and those who are overweight. Some causes may be wear of the cartilage between joints, an infection or injury to your joints, or autoimmune disorders wherein the immune system attacks the body.
Symptoms can include:
- Joint pain
- Loss of range of motion
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you may also suffer from:
- Loss of appetite
- In severe instances, joint deformity
However, it’s important to understand when these conditions become disabling and qualify you for Social Security disability benefits—as well as whether you should hire an attorney.
Here are some of the facts you need to know about arthritis Social Security disability claims and how the right attorney can help win your benefits.
How Do I Qualify for Social Security?
When you file a claim for disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is looking for medical evidence which proves your condition disables you from working.
To meet the criteria of being disabled in the eyes of the SSA, your condition must prevent you from working for at least 12 months. This includes not only your current job duties, but also any job in the current U.S. economy for which you are reasonably qualified.
Medical evidence of your condition can include:
- Doctors’ notes and records
- Lab tests and imaging results, such as x-rays and MRIs
- Records of therapies and medications
- Written doctors’ opinions
- Other forms of proof, sometimes including examinations by the SSA’s own medical experts
The evidence must show how your disability physically or psychologically prevents you from performing work duties.
There are also other qualifying factors, depending on the type of benefits you’re seeking.
For instance, when seeking Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you must have acquired a certain number of work credits, or “quarters,” while earning an income over time. The limit to earn Social Security is typically 40 credits, but this varies based on certain factors such as age.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a means-based program for low-income individuals seeking disability benefits, meant to help pay for needs such as food, shelter, clothing, and medication.
When Is My Arthritis Considered a Disability?
Inflammatory arthritis can qualify as a disability under Social Security’s Blue Book definition. In order to qualify under the disability listing, the following must be true of your condition, according to the SSA:
- Persistent inflammation or persistent deformity of:
- One or more major peripheral weight-bearing joints resulting in the inability to ambulate effectively
- One or more major peripheral joints in each upper extremity resulting in the inability to perform fine and gross movements effectively.
- Inflammation or deformity in one or more major peripheral joints with:
- Involvement of two or more organs/body systems with one of the organs/body systems involved to at least a moderate level of severity; and
- At least two of the constitutional symptoms or signs (severe fatigue, fever, malaise, or involuntary weight loss)
- Ankylosing spondylitis or other spondyloarthropathies
- Repeated manifestations of inflammatory arthritis, with at least two of the constitutional symptoms or signs (malaise, fatigue, fever, or involuntary weight loss) and one of the following at the marked level:
- Limitation of activities of daily living
- Limitation in maintaining social functioning
- Limitation in completing tasks in a timely manner due to deficiencies in concentration, persistence, or pace
This is a strict category of disability that it may be difficult to qualify under. However, if you don’t meet these criteria, you can still qualify if you can otherwise medically prove your disability prevents you from performing job tasks.
This process is complicated, and it’s important to consult a Social Security attorney about your options when proving your arthritis disability.
How Can a Social Security Disability Attorney Help?
The fact is that no matter your disability, winning Social Security benefits can be a long and difficult process. Having a legal disability expert advocate for you at each stage of your claim can maximize your chances of winning.
A qualified attorney will have expert knowledge and insight when navigating the SSA’s expectations and the criteria they use to evaluate your eligibility for benefits. They can advocate on your behalf with the SSA, ensure you have all the necessary medical evidence, and prepare you for next steps.
The process can be lengthy and can involve multiple denials and levels of appeal. Statistically, a majority of claims are initially denied and must be appealed. The levels of appeal include:
- Reconsideration by the SSA
- A hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
- Consideration of your case by the Appeals Council
- Federal court
Each stage of appeal can take months and requires certain actions on your part to give you the best chance of winning benefits. An attorney can guide you through the appeals process and represent you during any hearings you might have, including making arguments and presenting evidence on your behalf.
Typically, you don’t pay an attorney’s fee up front for Social Security cases. Instead, your attorney will collect a percentage of your initial backpay if you win your case. This amount is federally restricted to ensure you have access to the legal representation you deserve.
If your Social Security claim has been denied, or you’re thinking about filing and don’t know where to start, Affleck & Gordon can help. We’ve been helping people in Georgia just like you for over 40 years. Sign up for a free case evaluation here, or call us (404) 795-7449.