Although ankylosing spondylitis is a relatively rare form of inflammatory arthritis, about 300,000 people in the United States suffer from this medical condition. It is not curable and can cause severe disabling symptoms. As it progresses, some people may experience severe symptoms that prevent gainful employment and may need to seek long-term disability benefits for ankylosing spondylitis. If your claim has been wrongfully denied or terminated, call us at (888) 321-8131 for a free case evaluation.
Can You Qualify for Disability Benefits for Ankylosing Spondylitis?
Individuals with ankylosing spondylitis can qualify for disability benefits when they are no longer able to work to support themselves. There are two ways to receive disability benefits for ankylosing spondylitis, but it could be a long and difficult path to get benefits and keep them. Those who are denied may benefit from the service of an experienced disability lawyer. The different disability benefits that could be available include:
Private Disability Insurance
One way is to have a disability insurance policy in case you become unable to work. These policies are often offered through the patient’s workplace as part of a group benefits plan or a person may have taken out an individual policy when they bought life insurance.
Private insurance policies are all different. Some will not pay if the patient is able to work part-time. Many policies do not cover ankylosing spondylitis. If a person has ankylosing spondylitis, they will need to examine their long-term disability policy to find out if this medical condition is covered. Some private policies consider 24 months to be long-term. At the end of the 24 months, they quit paying even though the patient may still be disabled.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
The second way to get disability benefits is to apply for benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). The SSA maintains a detailed list of disabilities which includes ankylosing spondylitis. If your symptoms are severe enough to prevent work activity for a period of 12 months or longer you may qualify to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.
When a patient applies for benefits under their private insurance policy they could be required to file for Social Security Disability benefits as well. The insurance company will then will reduce their payout by the amount of your Social Security Disability payment.
What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?
Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of inflammatory arthritis that causes the spine to become inflamed. Patients experience chronic pain and stiffness in their joints. Some scientists believe there is a hereditary connection because a genetic marker has been identified. However, only 20% of the people who have the genetic marker end up getting the disease.
Inflammation itself happens because your body believes it is under attack from an infection or from an injury. So, your body sends chemicals to the injured area to try to heal itself. In this case, the body is triggering this inflammatory response by mistake. The chemicals and the extra blood flow make the area feel hot and the skin turns red.
Although most people feel ankylosing spondylitis in their vertebrae, it can affect the joints of the entire body. Over time, ankylosing spondylitis may even affect the heart, lungs, and aorta.
As the effects of the disease spread you will need to think about applying for disability for ankylosing spondylitis. The process is difficult, but there are attorneys to help you with the application process.
Symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis
People will commonly first feel chronic pain and stiffness, swelling, and redness in their lower back. Since there are so many causes of low back pain, it is hard to diagnose the condition at this beginning stage.
As the disease progresses, the patient may feel pain and inflammation higher up into the thoracic or cervical spine and in other joints. As with other kinds of arthritis, the affected joints will begin to crumble. As the bones break down, they fuse to each other. This fusing and bone breakdown can be seen on x-rays.
Twenty-five percent of people who have been diagnosed with this condition will develop related eye symptoms. The eye becomes inflamed and sensitive to light. This is a serious symptom that needs immediate treatment.
Diagnosing Ankylosing Spondylitis
To make an accurate diagnosis, doctors will physically examine the patient to test for a limited range of motion. Stooped posture is a good indicator of the disease and will prompt the doctor to order x-rays, which will show that the sacroiliac joint at the base of the spine is inflamed and may show that the vertebrae have fused.
If x-rays are inconclusive, the doctor may order an MRI. MRI scans are able to see more soft tissues and better details of the bones. An MRI can catch the disease at an earlier stage, rather than waiting for bones to crumble and fuse.
An excellent tool for diagnosis is to run a blood test for the genetic marker HLA-B27. Ninety percent of people with ankylosing spondylitis will have this genetic marker. However, patients can have the disease without the marker so doctors are careful to consider other symptoms. If the patient has other symptoms like an enlarged aorta or has a hard time breathing due to chest bones that have fused, it makes the diagnosis even more certain. Other symptoms include undiagnosed fever and fatigue.
One must make sure that the specific symptoms related to this medical condition are thoroughly documented in the medical records to use as evidence in the case. Whether you applied for disability insurance or SSDI benefits, you must provide medical evidence to support your claims that your illness is chronic and disabling. It is your responsibility to include all of the necessary information.
Early medical treatment and therapy might help keep the joints from degenerating so quickly. Unlike many other conditions, resting makes it worse. Remaining active is very important. More movement and specially designed exercises for the affected area provide relief.
Often in the early stages, NSAIDs like Advil and Indocin can reduce inflammation. When those no longer work, the doctor might start using drugs called biologics to treat the condition. Biologics are effective, but they usually have to be administered by IV, and sometimes they make people more susceptible to infections. When joints become severely damaged, surgery could be necessary.
Since keeping joints moving helps reduce pain, doctors often prescribe physical therapy. Physical therapists stretch the muscles to help patients improve their range of motion. They will give patients exercises to perform at home to keep the joints flexible. They help patients practice good posture and show them how to sleep in the proper positions.
A Disability Attorney Can Help
Private insurance policies are difficult for a layperson to understand. Social Security law is complicated and the Social Security Administration has so many regulations it can actually take years to be approved for an SSDI claim. Either way, you have a better chance of winning their claim if you hire a disability lawyer.
If a person has already filed their claim on their own and the claim has been denied, a long-term disability lawyer can help appeal the decision. The disability insurance appeals process can be particularly involved. An experienced, board-certified disability attorney will be familiar with the law and will already know what kinds of evidence will win the claim. Just one missed deadline could cause irreparable harm, but an attorney will know applicable disability law and the rules and regulations that must be met.
Request a Free Case Evaluation Today
Ortiz Law Firm has years of experience fighting every major disability insurance company and the Social Security Administration. We offer a free case evaluation for long-term disability claimants whose claims were denied or terminated and SSDI claimants from initial application through the hearing process. Contact us today for more information about the service we provide or to discuss the specific details of your case. Call (888) 321-8131 to schedule your free consultation today.