Psoriatic Arthritis and Disability: What You Need to Know

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Symptoms of psoriatic arthritis often interfere with work responsibilities. In fact, one-third of people with psoriatic arthritis will claim short-term or permanent disability due to loss of joint mobility. If your symptoms are severely impacting your work, you might consider filing a disability claim. Here’s how to navigate a psoriatic arthritis disability claim, and ways to get back your health.


Disability claims aren’t forever

Whether you need a year to get through a bad bout or you require more time, it doesn’t mean you’ll be on disability forever. According to a report published by the Center for Studying Disability Policy, only 5 percent of people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) return to work full-time. People on short-term disability (through their state or private insurance) only qualify for a period of time, up to a year, so their return to work is inevitable. It’s important to focus on regaining your health, and disability can help with that.


Do you qualify for disability?

Five states — California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island — offer temporary disability benefits, which usually require a doctor’s note. Some employers also carry short- and long-term disability insurance. If these options are not available to you, you can apply through the Social Security Administration (SSA). You must be off work due to your medical condition and unable to work for a year or more because of your disability.


How long do you have to be disabled before you apply?

You can apply for disability benefits as soon as you realize your symptoms are interfering with your work, or as soon as you quit work or are terminated because of your condition. Contrary to what most people believe, you don’t have to be disabled for any length of time before you apply for SSDI or SSI disability benefits. Your disability, however, must prevent you from returning to work for more than a year, under federal guidelines.


The large-joint criteria for disability

The SSA requires that claimants with autoimmune arthritis experience persistent inflammation or deformity in one or more weight-bearing joints (for example, ankle, knee, or hip) or one or more peripheral joints (shoulder, wrist, or elbow) in each upper extremity.


The systemic criteria for disability

People with psoriatic arthritis can claim disability benefits if they experience inflammation or deformity in one or more major peripheral joints as well as moderate involvement of two or more organs or body systems. Signs of systemic involvement include severe fatigue, fever, malaise, or weight loss.


Spine-specific criteria for disability

If your psoriatic arthritis flares in your spine, the SSA has specific criteria for your ankylosis, or fixation, which includes flexion requirements of 45 degrees, or 30 degrees with moderate systemic involvement.

General criteria for disability

The SSA also offers respite for people with general manifestations of inflammatory arthritis. In addition to the systemic signs of fatigue, fever, malaise, or weight loss, the applicant must also prove limitations in completing daily activities and social functioning, as well as limitations in completing tasks due to issues with concentration, persistence, or pace. This includes people who work in office settings, especially if they have trouble sitting or typing due to arthritis in the spine or hands.


What you’ll need from your physician

Treatment notes from your rheumatologist, X-rays, MRIs, lab work, and other relevant documents will help your case. The SSA may also require you to undergo an examination by an independent physician.


What you’ll need from work

The disability examiner will need to evaluate your work history, which will help him or her classify your line of work and determine the demands of your job. The examiner will also evaluate whether or not you could switch to another type of work, given your level of disability.


Consider legal help

Many disability claims are denied at the application level and reconsidered in appeal. If you have the means to hire a disability attorney, you have a better chance of getting all of your paper work in as required.


Get back your health

If your disability claim is approved, use your time off work to explore new treatments, get a second opinion on your current treatment, practice self-care, or read stories about other people who experienced disability due to psoriatic arthritis or comorbidities and how they found their way back to good health.


Return to work slowly

Under SSDI, you can earn up to $1,180 per month (if you’re not blind) before your wages begin to affect your disability benefits. The SSA also offers a trial work period nine months after your first benefit payment, where you can earn more than the $1,180 limit; this trial period is designed to encourage people to return to work.


Know you’re not alone

The employment rate for people with psoriatic arthritis ranges between 54 and 63 percent. Your disease is serious. Take the time to get it under control if you want to regain strength and independence.