If scleroderma has significantly impacted your ability to work, applying for disability benefits may be a viable option. The severity of your symptoms, functional limitations, and their impact on your daily life will be crucial factors in determining eligibility for disability benefits. 

Is Scleroderma a Disability?

Approximately 300,000 Americans live with scleroderma and if you are struggling with the disorder, you may get approved for the Social Security Disability Benefits. These benefits are beneficial for people who are unable to work owing to their disability. However, individuals struggling with localized scleroderma may affect their skin, and underlying tissues may or may not be eligible for the benefits.

Scleroderma is recognized as a disability by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and is included in the Blue Book, specifically under Immune System Disorders in Section 14.01. Individuals with scleroderma may qualify for Social Security disability benefits based on the outlined criteria for immune system disorders.

Moreover, beyond the SSA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) acknowledges scleroderma as a disability. The ADA is a civil rights law designed to prevent discrimination against individuals with disabilities in various aspects of public life. Therefore, if scleroderma imposes significant limitations, individuals are protected by the ADA, ensuring equal opportunities and rights in areas such as employment, public services, and accommodations.

What Is Scleroderma?

Scleroderma is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the skin and connective tissues. The condition is characterized by the abnormal growth of collagen, a protein that forms the structure of the skin and other tissues. This excessive collagen production leads to the hardening and tightening of the skin and can also affect internal organs and blood vessels.

Can You Get Disability For Scleroderma?

If you’re dealing with scleroderma, you might be eligible for disability benefits, provided that your symptoms are sufficiently severe to hinder your ability to work. The impact of scleroderma can vary, but issues like chronic pain and persistent fatigue can significantly disrupt your capacity to maintain full-time employment.

However, securing Scleroderma disability benefits involves meeting not only the medical criteria outlined in the SSA Blue Book but also the technical eligibility criteria set by the Social Security Administration. 

Even though scleroderma is recognized in the Blue Book, obtaining disability benefits can be challenging due to the multifaceted criteria applicants must satisfy. Navigating the medical and technical aspects is essential to increase the likelihood of a successful disability claim.

What Are The Symptoms Of Scleroderma?

Scleroderma is a complex autoimmune disease that can affect various body parts, leading to many symptoms. The symptoms can vary in severity and may include:

  • Skin Changes: Thickening and tightening of the skin, particularly on the fingers, hands, face, and forearms. This can result in a shiny or waxy appearance.
  • Raynaud’s Phenomenon: Extreme sensitivity to cold or stress, causing blood vessels to narrow and temporarily limit blood supply to certain areas, usually fingers and toes. This can lead to color changes (white, blue, and red) in affected areas.
  • Joint and Muscle Pain: Pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints and muscles, making movement difficult and uncomfortable.
  • Digestive Issues: Scleroderma can affect the digestive tract, leading to problems such as acid reflux, difficulty swallowing, and issues with the functioning of the intestines.
  • Lung Involvement: In some cases, scleroderma can affect the lungs, causing shortness of breath, coughing, and potential scarring of lung tissue.
  • Kidney Problems: Scleroderma can impact the kidneys, leading to increased blood pressure and potential kidney damage.
  • Fatigue: Persistent fatigue is common among individuals with scleroderma and can significantly impact daily activities.
  • Weight Loss: Digestive issues and reduced appetite may contribute to weight loss in some individuals.

Common Types Of Scleroderma

Scleroderma presents itself in two primary forms:

  • Localized Scleroderma (Morphea):

This variant, often called morphea, primarily impacts specific areas of the skin, such as the chest and abdomen. The symptoms in localized scleroderma progress slowly and tend to stay confined to certain regions.

  • Systemic Sclerosis:

The second form, systemic sclerosis, is more extensive in its impact. It can affect large areas of the skin and internal organs, including the lungs and heart. Unlike localized scleroderma, systemic sclerosis has the potential to cause significant damage to both blood vessels and internal organs. 

Other health conditions associated with scleroderma may include lupus, arthritis, Raynaud phenomenon, and Sjogren’s syndrome.

What Type Of Benefits Should I Apply For?

Fundamentally, there are two types of disability benefits that the SSA provides for the disability applicants:

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
  •  Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSDI is beneficial for those applicants who have a work history and may have worked for the last 10 years whereas SSI is advantageous for those who have low income and assets and have not worked. However, both programs will include health insurance. In SSDI, it is provided in the form of Medicare, and in SSI, health insurance is provided in the form of Medicaid. 

How To Apply For Scleroderma?

Applying for disability benefits due to scleroderma involves navigating the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) application process. Some steps are as follows:

  • Gather Medical Evidence: Collect comprehensive medical documentation supporting your scleroderma diagnosis. 
  • Review the SSA Blue Book: Familiarize yourself with the specific criteria for immune system disorders in the SSA Blue Book, Section 14.01, which includes scleroderma.
  • Create an Account: Visit the SSA’s official website and create an account if you don’t already have one. 
  • Complete the Online Application: Use the SSA’s online application portal to complete and submit the disability application.
  • Follow Up on Your Application: Regularly check the status of your application through your SSA account.

What Is The SSA Criterion For Scleroderma Disability?

To qualify for disability benefits due to scleroderma, individuals must meet certain medical criteria.

  • Skin Involvement:

The extent of skin involvement is assessed, considering factors such as the location and severity of thickening and tightening. Severe involvement may include widespread, deep skin lesions that persist despite prescribed treatment.

  • Internal Organ Involvement:

Systemic sclerosis often affects internal organs. The SSA evaluates the impact on organs such as the lungs, heart, kidneys, and digestive system. Medical evidence demonstrating significant organ damage and dysfunction is crucial for meeting the criteria.

  • Functional Limitations:

The SSA considers the functional limitations scleroderma imposes, such as limitations in daily activities, mobility, and the ability to work. Documentation of persistent symptoms, pain, and fatigue significantly impacting an individual’s ability to perform gainful activity is important.

  • Laboratory Findings:

Relevant laboratory findings, such as blood tests and imaging results, are considered. Abnormalities in these tests may support the severity of the condition.

What If My Scleroderma Meet The Criteria?

If your scleroderma meets the eligibility criteria of the SSA, you must start with the application process for the disability claim. You must apply if you are taking treatment for scleroderma and have been diagnosed with the disorder. AN applicant must wait if their symptoms are moderate and their symptoms are getting better with treatment. 

Disability applicants must not apply if they are earning more than $1,550 every month and are able to work in their moderate capacity with the disorder. 

What If My Scleroderma Doesn’t Meet The Criteria?

Even if your scleroderma doesn’t precisely align with the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) criteria, you can still submit an application. In such cases, it becomes crucial to furnish comprehensive medical records showcasing how your scleroderma prevents you from fulfilling your specific job duties. The emphasis shifts to demonstrating the practical impact on your ability to work.

Even in severe cases, navigating the application process with scleroderma can be challenging. Initial applications often face rejection, with approximately 80% of first-time applicants experiencing this setback. However, viewing this as a part of the process rather than a final decision is essential.

How Much Is The Disability Check For Scleroderma?

The average monthly disability payment for individuals with scleroderma is approximately $1,361.97. However, it’s important to note that the specific amount you receive can vary based on factors such as your work history, other sources of income, and existing assets.

As of 2024, the maximum monthly payment for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is $3,822, while Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provides a maximum of $942 per month. These figures are not specific to scleroderma but represent the highest possible benefits for individuals qualifying under the SSDI or SSI programs.

How Can a Disability Attorney Help You?

An experienced Social Security Disability Lawyer can provide valuable assistance in navigating the complex application process for disability benefits. They can help gather necessary medical evidence, ensure accurate completion of paperwork, and represent your case during appeals if an initial claim is denied.

FAQs On Scleroderma Disability

Yes, there is a mandatory waiting period before disability benefits begin. For Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), benefits typically start five months after the onset of the disability. There is no waiting period for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
The Social Security Administration considers your ability to engage in substantial gainful activity. While part-time work may not necessarily disqualify you, your income and ability to perform work-related tasks will be evaluated. It's crucial to report any changes in your work status during the application process.
If your initial claim is denied, you have the right to appeal the decision. Many applicants face initial denials, but the chances of success increase during the appeals process. Seeking assistance from a disability attorney can be beneficial in presenting a stronger case during the appeals stage.