Ankylosing spondylitis and disability benefits: what you need to know

Individuals with ankylosing spondylitis (AS) who meet the requirements of the Social Security Administration (SSA) definition of disability may be eligible for benefits. Working with a doctor and a representative can help a person through the application process.

Although the SSA recognizes AS as a potential disability, a person with the condition is not automatically eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). A person must meet established criteria for disability, which include the inability to work for a long period.

The SSDI application process can sometimes be time consuming and difficult for a person. In addition to the original claim, they often must file at least one appeal before the SSA approves benefits. Working with a representative can make the process easier.

Keep reading to learn more about disability benefits for people with AS.

AS is a type of inflammatory arthritis that often affects spinal ligaments and joints. Over time, a person can develop stiffness that can limit their mobility.

In many cases, AS is not debilitating and people experience only minor pain and stiffness that comes and goes.

However, some people may experience continuous pain and stiffness. They may lose flexibility in the spine or, in more severe cases, part of the spine may fuse together.

A person may also experience symptoms in other parts of their body, including:

  • feet
  • hips
  • shoulders
  • ribs
  • knees
  • pegs

Although there is no cure for AS, treatment can help reduce the severity of symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. Treatment can help the majority of people living with AS lead full and active lives.

Ankylosing spondylitis is one of the conditions listed in the SSA list of disabilities. This document provides details of medical conditions that may impair a person’s ability to work, qualifying them for SSDI. AS falls under section 14.00, which is called “Immune System Disorders — Adult”.

Within this list are several sections on inflammatory arthritis and what is considered a deficiency. According to the SA section, a person must meet one of two main criteria:

  • spine fixed at a 45 degree angle
  • spine fixed at a 30 degree angle and involvement of at least one or two organ systems, one of which is moderate in severity

However, a person living with AS may qualify for SSDI even if they do not fit the exact clinical definition above. The SSA provides strict guidelines on what is considered a disability, stating that a person must:

  • have worked long enough and recently enough in a job or jobs covered by social security
  • being unable to perform a previous job or adapt to a new job due to the disability
  • be unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to the disability
  • live with an illness that lasts or is expected to last at least 1 year or lead to death

A person’s doctor can work with them to document their diagnosis and the effect their symptoms have on their ability to work.

A person can complete the SSDI application online here or call the SSA for assistance at 800-772-1213.

Gathering the required information in advance can make it easier to complete the application. However, the SSA states that a person should not delay submitting the application, as it may help them acquire some of the necessary documents, such as:

  • W-2 forms
  • birth certificate
  • medical records
  • payslips

People who have difficulty completing the application may benefit from the help of a representative, who people sometimes call an attorney. A representative can be an attorney or other disability advocate that the SSA has approved and someone has appointed to help with their request.

Representatives, which can be anyone the person chooses and is approved by the SSA, can help increase the chances of approval. They are often lawyers or paralegals, but they do not have to belong to the legal profession.

A person can contact their local Social Security office to request a list of professionals who help with applications. They can also find additional lists and resources online and through organizations such as AARP, which was formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons.

What to prepare when applying for SSDI

The SSA recommends that individuals print, review, and gather the necessary information on its checklist before beginning their application. Here are some highlights from the checklist:

  • demographic information, including name, date of birth, place of birth, children, marital status, veteran status, etc.
  • current and previous employer information, including start and end dates, salary, job training, education, etc.
  • medical information, including information specific to the diagnosis, treatment, and outlook for the person with AS

A person can view and print the checklist here.

Understand the terms a person may encounter

When applying for SSDI, a person may come across several unfamiliar terms. Here are some common terms that may apply to AS as well as SSDI.

  • Impairment: Impairment is another way of referring to disability. The SSA provides a list of impairments that helps define the impairments it will recognize. SA may qualify under the general list of 14.00 called “Immune System Disorders – Adult”.
  • Residual Functional Capacity (RFC): RFC refers to the person’s ability to continue to engage in functional activities despite their disability. When assessing a person’s RFC, the SSA may look at factors such as pain, ability to move, and other potentially limiting features of AS.
  • Call: If the SSA denies a request, a person may file an appeal within 60 days of the denial. There are four levels of appeal, including reconsideration, hearing by a judge, review by the Appeals Board, and review by the Federal Court. A person can find more information about each appeal process here.
  • Representing: A person applying for SSDI can appoint a representative to contact the SSA and help complete the application. Although representatives are often lawyers or paralegals, they can be anyone approved by the SSA. A person must request a representative in writing. The representative may collect fees only at the discretion of the SSA.

Applying for disability benefits for AS can be a complex process. A person should start applying as soon as they feel their status will qualify. Often, the SSA denies initial requests, which means a person may need to file an appeal.

Working with a representative can help improve the chances of approval, but it’s not a requirement.

About Antoine L. Cassell

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