Is arthritis a disability under Social Security’s rules? It can be. The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a five-step sequential evaluation to determine whether someone meets the criteria to receive disability benefits under their program. The first step is to determine whether someone is working, and if they are, if they are working too much or earning too much to receive disability benefits. This is called substantial gainful activity, or SGA. In 2019, SGA is about $1,200 (gross, before taxes) per month. If you are earning over that, your case fails at step one, you are not eligible for disability benefits under Social Security’s rules.
At step two, SSA will determine whether someone has medical impairments that are “severe.” If your arthritis is affecting your ability to work or engage in your daily living activities, it can be considered severe under Social Security’s rules.
At step three, SSA determines whether your disability meets or equals a “listing” under their listings of covered impairments. Arthritis is a condition that is included in Social Security’s defined listings of disabilities. But, just because you have a diagnosis, that does not meet you automatically meet the listing. In order to fulfill the criteria of the listing, your arthritis must be severe enough to meet certain requirements. The listing includes requirements such as: persistent inflammation or deformity of your joints that either impairs your ability to walk effectively or severely inhibits your ability to perform both gross and fine movements in both of your hands. If you have arthritis in your spine (back or neck), you must prove fixation of your spine to a specific degree. These things must be supported by objective medical evidence from doctors or other medical professionals.
If you cannot prove that you meet the specific criteria of the listing for arthritis, you can also be found disabled at the next two steps if your medical records indicate that you cannot do your past work and you meet certain age, education and past work-experience criteria. This involves SSA’s medical-vocational guidelines or “grids,” which are covered in more detail in separate blog articles.
Finally, at step five, if your arthritis is so severe that it keeps you from doing any job in the national economy on a continuing and sustained, full-time basis, you may also qualify for disability benefits. Contact an experienced attorney at Hoglund Law to discuss your options.