Disability Application Tips: Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a common medical condition, affecting almost 3 million Americans annually. However, this doesn’t make it any easier to live with. RA is a chronic inflammatory disorder causes joint pain and swelling, making walking and other basic movements hard to do. You may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits, so you don’t have to push yourself to make ends meet.

What Do I Need for Medical Evidence?

Having enough medical evidence is extremely important. Make sure to include all test reports and statements from your doctor. There are a number of tests for RA that you can present to the SSA.

Blood Tests

  • Rheumatoid Factor (RF) – RF is an antibody in the blood that most people with RA have.
  • Anti-CCP Antibody – This antibody is most RA patients.
  • Antinuclear Antibody (ANA) – This antibody is a little less common than RF, with less than half of patients testing positive.
  • Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (SED rate) – Tests for the amount of inflammation.
  • C-reactive Protein (CRP) – Tests for the amount of inflammation.
  • Complete Blood Count (CBC) – This counts the all the types of blood cells and checks for anemia.

Physical Exam

Since some of the testing can be uncertain, the diagnosis for RA is also based on a physical exam by your doctor. If you have at least four of the following seven symptoms, you will be diagnosed with RA.

  • Morning joint stiffness for at least one hour
  • Swelling or fluid of three or more joints at the same time
  • Swelling in the wrist, hands, and/or fingers
  • Symmetric Arthritis (arthritis in the same joint in both sides of the body)
  • Rheumatoid nodules
  • Abnormally high amounts of RF
  • X-rays showing bone destruction over time in the hands and wrists


X-rays can show any changes to your bones, as well as damage due to the inflammation of your joints.

How Can I Prove I Can’t Work?

The effects of RA can be so debilitating that nearly a third of people with RA have to stop working. The SSA does have a section in the Blue Book for inflammatory arthritis, but if you can’t meet or equal the listing, you can also get benefits through a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) or through a Medical-Vocational Allowance. Make sure to be as specific as possible when answering questions on the application and describing your symptoms when talking about when and how RA affects your ability to work. Including statements from your boss or coworkers can also help. In order for the SSA to approve you, you need to prove you can’t perform even sedentary work. Here are some examples:

  • Inability to lift ten pounds
  • Inability to stand or walk for two hours a day
  • Inability to sit for six or eight hours a day
  • The need to take frequent sick days
  • The need to alternate between sitting and standing
  • The use of medically required devices to walk
  • The inability to bend
  • The reduced ability to use hands and fingers

Who Can I Get Help From?

There fastest and easiest way through the application is seeking the help of an experienced disability lawyers. They can help you get through the paperwork, collect all the necessary medical evidence, and deal with the SSA for you. In the event that your claim is denied, they can also help relieve the stress of the appeal process.

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