Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease that affects the body’s connective tissue. It can be localized to the skin or it can affect other organs and body systems as well (systemic scleroderma). Scleroderma can cause disabling symptoms, such as painful swelling of the joints, numbness and pain in the hands and feet, and even pulmonary and digestive difficulties because of scarring or inflammation of the tissues in the lungs and esophagus.
Can I Get Disability for My Scleroderma?
Some diseases, including systemic scleroderma, are eligible for automatic approval if the illness meets the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) listing criteria. In other words, if the SSA finds the required criteria in your medical records, it won't even have to consider whether your condition affects your ability to work. To qualify for automatic approval based on your scleroderma, you must have a diagnosis of systemic scleroderma and meet one of the four following conditions.
Multiple body systems affected
Your scleroderma affects two or more of your organs or body systems (such as the skin or pulmonary system), with one organ or body system that is at least moderately severely affected, and you experience at least two of the following symptoms:
- severe fatigue, or
- involuntary weight loss.
Contractures or atrophy
You have one of the following:
- toe contractures or deformities in one or both feet that prevent you from walking enough to do your day-to-day activities without assistive devices (like crutches, a walker, or a wheelchair)
- finger contractures or deformities in both hands that prevent you from performing fine and gross movements like lifting objects, sorting papers, holding a pen, or tying your shoe
- irreversible atrophy in one or both of your legs that prevents you from walking enough to do your day-to-day activities without assistive devices, or
- irreversible atrophy in both arms that prevents you from performing fine and gross movements like lifting objects, sorting papers, holding a pen, or tying your shoe.
You have Raynaud’s phenomenon with one of the following:
- gangrene in at least two limbs (arms and/or legs)
- ischemia (lack of blood supply) with open sores on the toes that that prevent you from walking enough to do your day-to-day activities without assistive devices (like crutches or a walker)
- ischemia (lack of blood supply) with open sores on the fingers that prevent you from performing fine and gross movements like lifting objects, sorting papers, holding a pen, or tying your shoe.
Limitations caused by symptoms
You have recurrent symptoms of systemic scleroderma that cause significant interference with either your day-to-day activities, your social functioning, or your ability to finish tasks in a normal amount of time, with at least two of the following:
- severe fatigue, or
- involuntary weight loss.
What If My Scleroderma Doesn’t Meet the Listing Requirements?
Even if you don't meet the listing requirements for systemic scleroderma, you may still qualify for disability. (This just means your condition didn't fit into the definition of severe scleroderma that the SSA developed for fast-tracking purposes.)
The SSA will prepare a residual functional capacity assessment (RFC) that details any work-related limitations that stem from your illness. For example, if your scleroderma is localized to your legs, you may have developed atrophy and abnormal thickening of the underlying tissue that impairs your ability to walk, though not at severity required by the listing level. In this case, your RFC would likely state that you can stand only for short periods of time and walk only limited distances. Additionally, you would have to avoid jobs where you were required to climb ladders or that required balance. In light of these restrictions, it would be difficult for you to perform most warehouse or industrial jobs, and your RFC might prevent you from performing any janitorial or construction work.
If you have developed scleroderma across the joints in your hands, your fine motor movement would be significantly diminished. Under these circumstances, your RFC would state that you are limited in your ability to perform jobs where you are required to use fingers to type or write, or perhaps to sort objects. Most secretarial and many assembly line or sorting jobs would be eliminated from the jobs that you could do.
The more types of limitations your medical records show (it's important for your doctor to record these limitations in your medical record), the fewer jobs you can do. If you have enough limitations, the SSA will have to find that there are no jobs you can do. As part of assessing what work you can do, the SSA will consider your prior job skills, education, and age. For more information on this assessment, see our section on how the SSA decides if you can work.
Basic Disability Requirements
In addition, to qualify for disability you cannot earn more than $1,070 per month from working. Also, your scleroderma must prevent you from being able to earn this amount for at least 12 months. In addition, you have the meet the financial and legal criteria for either SSDI (Social Security disability) or SSI (Supplemental Security Income).