ERISA & Social Security Disability: Southern California Lawyers
Rheumatoid Arthritis (“RA”) and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (“lupus”) are examples of Autoimmune Disorders (which are sometimes called “Connective Tissue Disorders”). These are potentially serious illnesses where a person's own immune system goes “rogue” and attacks the body, rather than protecting the body from infection. In effect, the immune system becomes hyperactive and uncontrolled, causing inflammation and damage to many parts of the body, including the joints, muscles, skin, and, in some cases, the internal organs.
Disability Benefits for Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
In lupus, the immune system can attack not only the joints (as in RA), but it frequently attacks the skin (“butterfly” rash), the lungs (“interstitial lung disease”), kidneys (“glomerulonephritis”), central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), and the liver (“autoimmune hepatitis/cirrhosis”).
Other Autoimmune Disorders
Although RA and lupus are some of the more common disorders, there are many others. In all of them, it's the immune system that is at fault, causing persistent inflammation and damage to various parts of the body.
In Polymyositis (PM) and Dermatomyositis (DM), the muscles (PM) and the skin (DM) are inflamed, which causes debilitating muscle weakness (“myopathy”) and skin rashes.
In Vasculitis, the blood vessels become inflamed, causing rashes and tissue damage.
In Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis, the skin and the joints become inflamed, causing plaques on skin and damage to the joints.
In Ankylosing Spondylitis, the spine and sacroiliac joints become inflamed, causing back pain and stiffness, and loss of motion as the disease progresses.
In Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn's Disease, the inflammation is in the intestinal tract and colon, with abdominal pain, diarrhea, gastrointestinal bleeding, and other problems.
In Scleroderma, the disease can affect the skin, lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and kidneys. Wegener's Granulomatosis (now called “Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis”) affects the sinuses, lungs, and kidneys. Sjogren's Syndrome causes dryness of the eyes and mouth (“sicca syndrome”), and it can cause swelling of the parotid glands, salivary glands, and peripheral neuropathy. All these disorders can cause disabling symptoms, such as severe musculoskeletal pain, decreased stamina, chronic fatigue, and exertional limitations that include impaired ability to sit, stand, lift, and carry.
You Need “More Than a Diagnosis”
The “diagnosis” of an autoimmune disorder is just the starting point for your disability application. Having a bad or a serious illness, like lupus, doesn't automatically get you a disability award. Neither does being on serious medications, such as corticosteroids (prednisone), immunosuppressive drugs (methotrexate), or “biologics” (Enbrel or Humira), that may be required to treat an autoimmune disorder.
(1) What is your diagnosis? (2) What are your symptoms? (3) What is your impairment (i.e., specific work-related activities that you cannot do)? Doctors are generally pretty good at documenting, in the medical record, a patient's diagnosis and symptoms. That comes “naturally” to them, because that's the information they need to keep track of, after each office visit, as part of your treatment program. However, doctors typically don't do a good job at documenting a patient's impairments, because they are not used to doing that, and it's usually not “necessary” for treatment purposes.
For example, if you have rheumatoid arthritis (“diagnosis”), and your RA causes you to have severe pain and swelling in your hands, knees, and feet (“symptoms”), your doctor will typically document your diagnosis and symptoms as a matter of course, but he must also document how your symptoms prevent you from performing certain activities (“impairment”).
Documenting your limitations: How does your condition affect you? Be specific to articulate to your physician details of your physical limitations and how they impact you on a daily basis with regard to your daily living activities, your ability to stand/walk, lift/carry, and even sit for extended periods of time and need for breaks or rest from pain or fatigue. These are important factors and details regarding your functional capacity and important in evaluating whether you can perform your work or any work.