• Christopher Le

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Social Security Disability

Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is an autoimmune disorder that occurs when a person’s immune system attacks the membranes surrounding their joints, causing them to inflame.


Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis typically starts in the joints of the hands and feet. It can also affect the knees, hips, and shoulders. The main symptoms are stiff and swollen joints. Bumps of tissue in hands and feet may also appear and RA can also cause fatigue, fevers, and weight loss. As time passes, RA can cause the joints to become permanently deformed


There is no one diagnostic test for RA which makes it tougher to be approved for social security disability benefits.

Disability Benefits for Rheumatoid Arthritis

If you have a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis, you may be able to qualify for Social Security disability benefits. In order to be approved for disability, you’ll need to prove that you are unable to perform any type of work in the national economy.


Qualifying for Benefits Under the Medical Listing for RA

The SSA sets forth specific criteria for disability applicants with rheumatoid arthritis in its Listing of Impairments. In order to meet the Listing criteria, you must experience significant limitations in your abilities due to your RA to qualify under this medical listing. There are many ways to meet with listing criteria but the requirements below are the most common. To qualify for benefits under the listing for RA, you must meet one of the following requirements:

  • Your RA is present in a joint in your legs, causing you significant difficulties in walking (for example, needing to use a two canes, a walker, or a wheelchair).

  • Your RA affects joints in both of your arms, preventing you from performing several tasks with your arms (involving both large muscle movements and small manipulations).

  • You have inflammation or a permanent deformity in one or more major joints, along with moderate involvement of at least two more organs or body systems, causing at least two symptoms out of these four: severe fatigue, fever, malaise, and/or involuntary weight loss.


Qualifying for Disability Using the Medical-Vocational Guidelines

If you have rheumatoid arthritis but unfortunately don’t meet the criteria of the Listing requirements above, you could still qualify for Social Security disability benefits if the SSA determines that you are unable to perform work on a consistent basis.

One of the ways the agency evaluates your ability to work is by assigning you a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). An RFC is your physical ability to perform either sedentary, light, medium, or heavy work. Your RFC should also include doctor's restrictions such as "the need to change positions frequently" or "being able stand for a limited time."


If you can prove asevere limitation on hour ability to sit or stand, because of inflamed and painful joints, SSA may find that you fall into a sedentary RFC category, which will limit the types of jobs you can do. If you require the need to shift positions such as from standing to sitting constantly or need to take rest breaks frequently, this would further limit the types of jobs you can do. If you have finger swelling and pain, you may have difficulty with handling, grasping and fine manipulation, which is required at most sedentary jobs. If you can prove that you have significant limits even at the sedentary level, this would make it likely you would be approved for disabilty benefits.


In general, it is easier for those who are older, less educated, and who have done unskilled work in the past to be approved for disability benefits. This is because of the medical vocational rules AKA GRID rules that typically apply to individuals ages 50 and older.

Medical Evidence Is Required When Proving Disability Due to Rheumatoid Arthritis

As with any case, medical evidence is king. This is how SSA evaluates your disability claim. This can include doctors' and hospital records and laboratory test results.

In general, to get approved for disability, your records must reflect the following:

  • a firm diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis

  • doctor’s notes reflecting the frequency and severity of your symptoms

  • blood test results indicating the likelihood of RA (such as a positive rheumatoid factor and ANA findings) and

  • imaging studies to review range of motion of the spine.

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