People with ankylosing spondylitis who meet the requirements of the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability can qualify for disability benefits.

Although the Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes ankylosing spondylitis (AS) as a potential impairment, a person with the condition does not automatically qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

A person needs to meet the established criteria for disability benefits, which include the inability to work for a long period.

Applying for SSDI can sometimes be time-consuming and challenging. In addition to the original application, a person often has to file at least one appeal before the SSA approves benefits. Working with a representative may make the process easier.

Keep reading to learn more about disability benefits for people with AS.

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AS is a type of inflammatory arthritis that often affects the ligaments and joints of the spine. Over time, a person may develop stiffness that can limit their mobility.

In many cases, AS is not debilitating. People experience only minor pain and stiffness that comes and goes.

However, some people can experience ongoing pain and stiffness. They may lose flexibility in the spine, or, in more severe cases, part of the spine might fuse.

A person may also experience symptoms in other areas of their body, including the:

  • feet
  • hips
  • shoulders
  • ribs
  • knees
  • ankles

Although there is no cure for AS, treatment can help reduce the severity of symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. Treatment can help the majority of people living with AS lead a full, active life.

AS is one of the conditions in the SSA’s Listing of Impairments. This document details medical conditions that may impair a person’s ability to work, qualifying them for SSDI.

AS falls under section 14.00, Immune System Disorders — Adult, as part of a subclassification of “inflammatory arthritis.”

Within that listing are several sections about inflammatory arthritis and what qualifies as an impairment. According to the section on AS, a person must meet one of two main criteria:

  • spine fixed at a 45-degree angle
  • spine fixed at a 30-degree angle and involvement of at least one or two organ systems with one at moderate severity

However, a person living with AS may qualify for SSDI even if they do not meet the exact clinical definition above.

The SSA provides strict guidelines on what qualifies as a disability, stating that a person must:

  • have worked long enough and recently enough in a job or jobs that Social Security covers
  • be unable to do previous work or adapt to new work due to the disability
  • be unable to participate in substantial gainful activity due to the disability
  • live with a condition that has lasted or is expected to last for at least 1 year or result in death

A person’s doctor can work with them to document their diagnosis and the effects their symptoms have on their ability to work.

A person can complete the SSDI application online here or call the SSA for assistance at 800-772-1213.

Gathering the required information in advance can make filling out the application easier. However, the SSA states that a person should not delay sending the application. The SSA can help the person acquire some of the needed documents, such as:

  • W-2 forms
  • birth certificate
  • medical records
  • pay stubs

People who have difficulty filling out the application may benefit from help from a representative, which people sometimes refer to as an advocate.

Representatives can be anyone the person selects and that the SSA approves. They are often lawyers or paralegals, but they do not have to belong to the legal profession.

A person can contact their local Social Security office to request a list of professionals who assist with applications. They can also find additional lists and resources online and through organizations such as the AARP, which was previously known as the American Association of Retired Persons.

What to have ready when applying for SSDI

The SSA recommends that people print, review, and gather the necessary information on its checklist before starting their application. Some highlights of the checklist include:

  • demographic information, including name, date of birth, location of birth, children, marital status, veteran status, and more
  • current and previous employer information, including the start and end dates, pay, job training, education, etc.
  • medical information, including information specific to the person’s diagnosis, treatment, and outlook with AS

A person can review and print the checklist here.

Understanding the terms a person may come across

When applying for SSDI, a person may come across several unfamiliar terms. The following are some common terms that may apply to AS and SSDI:

  • Impairment: Impairment is another way to refer to disability. The SSA provides a listing of impairments that helps define what impairments it will recognize. AS may qualify under the broad listing of 14.00 called Immune System Disorders — Adult.
  • Residual functional capacity (RFC): RFC refers to the person’s ability to continue doing functional activities. When evaluating a person’s RFC, the SSA may look at factors such as pain, ability to move, and other potentially limiting characteristics of AS.
  • Appeal: If the SSA denies an application, a person can file an appeal within 60 days of the denial. There are four levels of appeal: reconsideration, hearing by a judge, appeals council review, and federal court review. A person can find more information on each appeal process here.
  • Representative: A person applying for SSDI can appoint a representative to contact the SSA and help fill out the application. Although representatives are often lawyers or paralegals, they can be anyone the SSA approves. A person must request a representative in writing. The representative can only collect fees at the SSA’s discretion.

Applying for disability benefits for AS can be a complex process. A person should start applying as soon as they feel their status will qualify. Often, the SSA denies initial claims, which means a person might need to file an appeal.

Working with a representative may help improve the chances of approval, but it is not a requirement.