Many individuals with a chronic autoimmune condition, such as lupus, may find that continuing to be part of the workforce in a gainful capacity is simply not physically possible anymore. This realization of one’s limitations can be difficult to deal with emotionally, causing feelings of inadequacy, loss of independence, concern over being able to continue to function in society as normally as possible, as well as stress over future financial stability. Many Americans working with lupus or other debilitating conditions also depend on the healthcare coverage they receive through their employer. Those who have to stop working due to chronic illness may wonder how they will afford the proper medical care they need to manage their lupus disability. In these situations, it is important to understand that people who suffer from lupus disability are eligible to collect benefits from the Social Security disability insurance program. This program exists to assist those who can no longer work as a result of their medical condition. This federal program: Provides payment of disability benefits to disabled individuals who are “insured” under the Americans With Disabilities Act through their taxed earnings that contributed to the Social Security trust fund while they worked. Provides access to healthcare coverage benefits through the federal Medicare program after an individual has been collecting Social Security disability benefits for two years. Applying for Social Security Disability: The Initial Steps Involved If you feel you are no longer able to continue working with lupus, there are resources available to help you. In order to determine if you are eligible to collect Social Security disability benefits due to your lupus disability, you must apply for benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA). Applications may be submitted online or over the phone by calling toll-free 1-800-772-1213. Individuals can also request a Disability Starter Kit online through the Social Security Administration to assist them in the application process. Applicants have the right to use attorney representation throughout this process. During this evaluation period, information is gathered from the applicant, including medical records and other evidence. These materials help the SSA determine if the applicant can no longer perform the work he or she performed before due to a medical condition included in the SSA’s list of disabling conditions. Lupus disability is listed under Immune System Disorders in the SSA's listing of impairments. Also, the applicant must have worked long enough to acquire enough work credits to be eligible. Here are some other important facts to know about applying for Social Security disability benefits for individuals suffering from lupus disability: Detailed medical records are crucial. The information provided in your medical records can help determine whether or not you qualify for benefits. This critical documentation should convey the opinion of your treating medical physician who has been monitoring and treating your medical condition for a duration of time. If your test results, any hospital stays, your physician’s detailed notes, and attempts to treat your condition are well noted in your records and indicate that your condition is irreversible or expected to last longer than one year, all of it will serve as evidence to help prove your case. Functional limitations that are a direct result of your lupus disability must be proven. Your physician’s opinion of how long you can sit, stand, kneel, stand and walk is weighed greatly. These movements make up what’s known as your residual functional capacity, and help determine if you can make it through an 8-hour workday. Side effects from medications taken also can add to impairment and prevent a chronically ill individual from being able to perform a job. It is important to keep a journal of how you are feeling, what your symptoms are, and how you tolerate the medications you take regularly, and share them with your doctor so they become part of your medical file. This will also help your doctor form an educated opinion about your disability. The SSA has set certain medical guidelines based on severity of symptoms that are common in lupus disability. The presence of certain symptoms indicates a correct lupus diagnosis and count as part of the criteria that must be met to prove disability. These symptoms include malar or discoid rashes, extreme photosensitivity, arthritis, renal dysfunction, and neurological or hematologic impairments. Information provided that sheds light on your normal daily activities will also offer insight into whether you can work or not. It is important to keep a journal of your daily activities and try to record the timeframes in which you are able or not able to perform certain tasks. For how long of a period are you able to walk? How often must you take breaks? How long are your rest periods throughout the day? These are all important pieces of the whole picture. The more information you provide to the SSA when initially applying, the better. You want to provide a clear presentation of how severe your illness is to help the SSA determine your eligibility. Can a Lawyer Assist in the Disability Application Process? It may be wise to enlist legal counsel experienced in assisting those who suffer from lupus disability in applying for Social Security disability insurance benefits. This route could help speed the process along, which initially takes between three and five months. Legal counsel can help you appeal a rejection by requesting a hearing before an administrative law judge. It is important to keep in mind that the majority of applications are denied at first, and appeals could extend the entire process to over a year or more. An attorney who is experienced in this process will know what forms need to be submitted, what information needs to be provided, and what the SSA is looking for in order to approve an application for benefits. He or she can identify the merits of your case and will be most proficient in presenting your case before the judge. Stay Focused and Remember Your Rights Though the disability application process can be arduous and time-consuming, it is important to stay focused on your goal: properly managing your illness and care with the help of medical and financial assistance. If you are approved for Social Security disability, it is good to also be aware that disabled Americans are afforded numerous legal protections outlined in the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the workforce, state and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications. Determining you can no longer work due to lupus disability can be a challenging season of life, but keep in mind the Social Security Disability program was created for exactly these types of situations. Being approved for disability and receiving proper medical care and financial assistance can ease many pressures that come along with being chronically ill.