Thursday, December 29, 2016

Applying for Disability Benefits with Arthritis

This is a guest post written by Deanna Power, Director of Outreach at Disability Benefits Help. I know there are some, like me, questioning whether they will be able to work up to retirement age. I am seriously doubting that I will be able to work another 8 years but am also saddened to know that I do not, as of right now, qualify for disability help.

Arthritis is a leading cause of disability in the U.S., limiting the activities of nearly 10% of the American adult population and, if predictions turn out to be accurate, it will affect nearly 26% of people over the age of 18 by 2040.

There are two primary types of arthritis:
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: occurs when the immune system attacks the lining of the joints, eventually damaging both cartilage and bones
  • Osteoarthritis: occurs when daily activity wears down the cartilage in your joints

  • Both forms of arthritis cause pain, inflammation, and other complications that can impact your ability to work full-time. If this happens to you, you may be able to qualify for Social Security Administration (SSA) disability benefits, which will allow you to meet your living expenses, medical treatment costs, and other obligations.

    What Disability Benefits Are Available?

    The SSA has two types of disability benefit programs available to those who qualify. While each one meets the needs of a different type of applicant, both deliver benefits to people who are disabled and meet certain medical criteria.
  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): Pays benefits to disabled individuals who worked long enough to pay Social Security taxes and therefore ‘insure’ themselves.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI): Pays benefits to those with limited financial resources, such as children and the elderly. This is only for the very needy, so if your spouse works and earns income, you will not qualify for SSI.

  • Medical Eligibility with Arthritis

    The SSA determines your eligibility by consulting the Blue Book, which is its official catalog of disabling conditions.

    Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) appears under Listing 14.09 Inflammatory arthritis, which states that you will be considered disabled if you meet one of the criteria below:
  • You have trouble walking and need to use a walker, two canes, or a wheelchair.
  • Your arm joints are so severely affected that you can’t perform most tasks.
  • One or more major joints are inflamed or permanently deformed, accompanied by problems with two or more organs or systems, causing fevers, weight loss, malaise, and / or fatigue.
  • You have ankylosing spondylitis (inflammation of the spinal joints), with your spine fixed at 45 degrees.
  • Your RA repeatedly flares up, accompanied by fevers, weight loss, malaise, and / or fatigue.

  • Osteoarthritis is covered in Listing 1.04 Disorders of the spine. To qualify under this listing, you must meet one of the following criteria:
  • Nerve root compression accompanied by pain and / or loss of motor, reflex, or sensory ability
  • Spinal arachnoiditis, a pain disorder caused by the inflammation of a spinal cord membrane
  • Lumbar spinal stenosis, or choking of the spinal nerves in the lower back accompanied by stiffness and pain

  • Arthritis is also mentioned in Section 1.02, which deals with joint dysfunction. To meet this listing, your joints must experience arthritis-related deformity accompanied by leg or arm impairment.

    Applying for Disability Benefits with Arthritis

    When you apply for SSA benefits, the application must be accompanied by medical images and documentation that confirms your diagnosis. Examples include:
  • X-rays
  • MRIs
  • Blood work that shows the degree of inflammation in your body

  • Your doctor will also have to complete a residual functional capacity (RFC) form, which the SSA will use to determine if having arthritis prevents you from working at a job you are trained and qualified for, or at the very least learning and mastering a new skill. If you are applying for SSI, which is strictly needs based, you must submit your financial details and be interviewed by a SSA representative.

    Receiving Benefits Without Meeting a Listing & Applying

    If you don’t meet a Blue Book listing, you may still be approved for disability benefits via a medical vocational allowance. The SSA reviews your RFC form to evaluate how arthritis limits your daily activities and will grant you benefits if the impairment is significant. Medical vocational allowances are intended to make benefits available to disabled individuals who did not meet a listing.

    For more information about qualifying for disability benefits when you are living with any type of arthritis, visit the SSA’s website, contact your closest SSA office, or call 1-800-772-1213. Arthritis can be challenging to cope with, but regular monthly payments will ease your financial burden and cover your medical costs as you improve your quality of life.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2016

    Med Switch - Take 5

    After a long heart to heart with doc yesterday, he did an exam then checked the markers on my blood work and slipped into his office for about 5 minutes. Upon his return suggested that, after comparing my blood work, swelling, CRP, etc, that we try Cimzia. I had started my visit with inquiring about switching to Actemra injections. He said that if I was dead set on them that we could go that way but if the Actemra infusions weren't working well that he was reluctant to go with Actemra injections. I understood his logic, besides ... he is the doctor.
    So I started off with a double injection yesterday at the rheumatologist office and they sent my prescription off to my drug provider with my health insurance. I checked and Cimzia is on the specialty drug list so there won't be any complications there. I was disappointed that Cimzia does not come in a pen kit, just a syringe. I was quite pleased with the fact that Cimzia does not sting nearly as bad as Humira when injected. Cimzia is a Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) blocker used to treat moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriatic arthritis (PsA) and ankylosing spondylitis (AS). Of course it comes with the proverbial kitchen sink full of side effects.  

    I can now add another face to the totem pole of failures for me with my 14 years of living with RA. Add Actemra to the list with Enbrel, Orencia and Humira as no longer effective for me. One thing that is stuck in the back of my mind though is I was only on Actemra for 15 months. I hope that doesn't indicate that my body is getting better at defending itself against RA drugs. I guess all I can do is ride this new train as far as it will take me.

    I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy (and pain free) New Year!


    Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    I Was Hoping For Better

    This is a post that I have been putting off for quite a while.
    RA has not been kind to me this year, actually starting late last year. I switched meds hoping for a miracle drug to come help me ... that didn't happen. I have adjusted my eating, I still walk everyday and do some light weights when possible. I have cut way back on soft drinks (my single vice that I still have) and drink mostly water and vegetable juice now. All for nothing, I continue to struggle and haven't rode over 1000 miles all year long. Truthfully, probably closer to about 600 miles. I sold one bike in September and I now have my only bike left for sale.
    I felt this day was coming so I plunged myself back into photography early this spring to have something to occupy my mind and time. Riding has been a huge part of my life since I was 10. While photography has worked to some degree, it sure doesn't take the place of getting away from everything on a bike for 5 or 6 hours. Strangely I am semi-okay with selling my bike and moving on.
    Now for the next stage ... I am struggling to survive at work as well. So much so that I am starting to look in to disability. I have a rheumatologist appointment next week and will talk further with my doc about it and the possibility of another med doing more for me. I will also have a guest post by Deanna Power, she works with Disability Benefits Help and can offer some insight into how to apply for disability.
    I am in the early stages of starting a photography blog or maybe converting this blog to photography, not sure yet ... still kicking it around for now. I truly hope that all of you are doing good in the fight against RA. It's not easy, it's not fun but we must continue on!