Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a particularly debilitating and painful form of arthritis. According to a USA Today report, one in three Americans suffer from arthritis and it is a leading cause of disability because for many of those with the disease, their symptoms make it impossible to hold a job. AS is an inflammatory disease that can cause some of the vertebrae in your spine to fuse together. This fusing makes the spine less flexible and can result in a hunched-forward posture. If your ribs are affected, it may be difficult to breathe deeply. Although it is often diagnosed in young men, AS can impact men or women of any age. There is no cure for ankylosing spondylitis; it is a lifelong chronic condition.

AS can be challenging to diagnose because its symptoms are not always specific to AS alone. Tests used to diagnose AS can include x-rays, physical exams, and genetic testing.

If your pain and loss of mobility from AS prevents you from working and you are considering applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), here’s what you need to know to give yourself the best chance of winning your case.

Social Security Administration (SSA) rules state that to be found disabled, an individual must have a medically determinable “severe” physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that is expected to last 12 months or result in death. There are two ways you can qualify for benefits. The first way is when your impairment meets the criteria in SSA’s Blue Book (Listing of Impairments). Social Security says to meet the AS criteria you must have at least one of the following and be able provide medical imaging as proof:

•    Dorsolumbar or cervical spine fixated at 45 degrees or more of flexion from the vertical position.
•    Dorsolumbar or cervical spine fixated at 30 degrees or more of flexion from the vertical position and moderate involvement of at least two organs or bodily symptoms.

Regrettably, not many disability applicants are able to meet the Blue Book criteria. However, there is hope, because there is a second way you can qualify for Social Security disability benefits, by proving that ankylosing spondylitis prevents you from doing work that you did before, and prevents you from adjusting to any other type of work that is performed in the national economy. 

It is important to keep in mind that when it comes to qualifying for Social Security disability payments it is not the name of the disease, but whether or not the disease causes symptoms that make it impossible for you to get and hold onto a job. (Predictably, many people who the SSA says have severe limitations that keep them from returning to their old jobs are also found to be young enough and have suitable education and skills to be able to switch to some other kind of work.)

To meet Social Security requirements for disability you must prove your medical problems are significant. When Social Security decides a disability claim, it does so by determining your “Residual Functional Capacity,” or “RFC.” An RFC is a test typically conducted by your treating physician of what you able to do despite your medical problems. The RFC form should clearly state any limitations or restrictions that you have because of your condition. Your condition must limit using your arms or hands or cause problems standing and walking or you must have severe degenerative back or neck problems. Social Security will also want to know if your AS causes enough pain or fatigue that it affects your ability to concentrate or forces you to lie down for symptom relief. 

It is important to keep your own records such as a diary, calendar or employment records to show how often your symptoms affect you. Often people with a chronic illness learn how to cope by pushing through. But when your doctor asks how you’re feeling, be accurate and complete in describing your symptoms, so that they can be documented in your medical records.

To qualify for benefits it is not enough just to say you are disabled. You must provide detailed medical records and documentation from your medical providers to back up your case. To determine if you are disabled and eligible for benefits, Social Security Administration enlists a complex set of rules, which vary according to your age, so evaluating the specific circumstances of your case is critically important. Our experience has shown that AS disability cases can be complicated and difficult but they are winnable. For a free evaluation of your case, call us at Cuddigan Law. 

Timothy J. Cuddigan (Founder - Retired)
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Omaha Social Security and Veterans Disability Lawyer With Over 40 Years Experience
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