Rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive, debilitating disease which in its more serious advanced stages can prevent a sufferer from doing any meaningful, paid work. If this is what you are suffering from, you have the right to apply for a social security disability benefit from the Social Security Administration (SSA). The SSA has exacting criteria that are used to determine whether a benefit payment is justified. If your initial application is rejected for some reason, it is worth knowing that many applications are eventually accepted for approval after appealing the decision. There are four stages of the appeal process as listed below.
- request a reconsideration of the application by the SSA;
- request a hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ);
- take your claim for an appeals council review;
- take your case to a federal district court.
The Initial Application for a Disability Benefit for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Many initial applications because there was inadequate supporting evidence. Rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive deterioration of the joints, but in the early stages, symptoms may not be so severe to prevent a person working. The criteria that are used to determine whether an applicant’s rheumatoid arthritis is severe enough are listed in the SSA’s Blue Book under section 14.09, which deals with inflammatory arthritis. Assessors who work at the SSA’s Disability Determination Services (DDS) look for at least one or two of the more severe symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis as well as evidence of a limitation in the ability to carry on normal life.
To help your claim you could request a residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment which should be performed by a physician. The RFC assessment tests your physical ability to perform a number of tests, such as lifting, carrying and standing. It helps SSA assessors to evaluate whether you can still work or not.
In Case of a Denial
About half of all benefit applications are denied initially, yet when an appeal is followed through many of these decisions are ultimately reversed. You can improve your chances of success if you engage a disability lawyer to help you navigate your way through the appeal process. A brief description of the four successive stages of the appeal process is given below. Note that you could be successful reversing the denied claim at any of the four stages, but it is most likely at either the first or second stage.
Step 1 is to request reconsideration by the SSA of their decision. This is basically re-examination of the application to see if the decision from the SSA point of view was valid.
Step2 is to request a hearing presided over by an administrative law judge (ALJ). The judge is not an expert on rheumatoid arthritis but is there to assess whether the process involved in the decision by the SSA was followed properly. The judge will examine all of the material again and ask questions about your disability and how it affects you physically and mentally. Your lawyer may be present at the hearing.
There are two final steps which may be followed if all else fails. The first involves taking your claim for an appeals council review and finally the case may be taken to be heard at a federal district court.