Disability Benefits May be Awarded for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

July 5, 2022

About 200,000 Americans a year develop reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), a chronic and painful arm or leg disorder. RSD can arise after an injury, a stroke, a heart attack, surgery, or from other causes.

Treatment can help ease RSD symptoms, but there is no cure at this time. The exact cause of RSD (also known as complex regional pain syndrome) isn’t well understood, but may involve abnormal inflammation or nerve dysfunction.

What is known is that RSD can be a lifelong condition with pain so debilitating that RSD patients are unable to sustain full-time competitive employment on a consistent and reliable basis.

If you have RSD that has lasted or is expected to last 12 months or longer and it prevents you from being able to hold on to a job, you may be eligible for financial assistance through one of the Social Security disability programs.

There are two disability programs: Social Security Disability Insurance, which is known as SSDI, and Supplemental Security Income , commonly referred to as SSI.

SSDI pays benefits to you and certain members of your family if you are disabled and you worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes recently enough.

SSI, on the other hand, is based on financial need. The Social Security Administration (SSA) says, “It is designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income.” For more on this topic see our blog article Question of the Month: What is the difference between SSDI and SSI?

To determine if you are medically eligible for disability benefits, Social Security has a set of procedures in place. These procedures are published in a handbook known as the “Blue Book,” and it includes a list of various disabling conditions known as “listings.”

Unfortunately, there is no specific listing for reflex sympathetic dystrophy in the Blue Book. However the Social Security Administration does lay out the criteria for evaluating RSD in its Program Operation Manual System (POMS) under SSR-03p.

Under the requirements of SSR 03-2p, you must prove a diagnosis of RSD, that it stops you from working, and will stop you from working for a year or more. RSD can be can be “established with persistent complaints of pain that are often out of proportion to the severity of any documented precipitant and one or more of the following clinically documented signs in the affected area: swelling, autonomic instability, etc.”

You may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits for RSD if you can prove that, due to the limitations of your condition, you are unable to perform any job in the national economy, considering your age, education and past work.

To qualify, you must demonstrate that the symptoms of your impairment prevent you from sustaining full-time competitive employment on a consistent and reliable basis. All qualifying disabilities must be expected to last and keep you out of work for at least 12 months.

To prove that RSD prevents you from maintaining fulltime employment, it is very important to ask your doctor to explain your medical situation, oftentimes using a form called the “Residual Functional Capacity” (RFC) form .

The RFC form measures your physical abilities, and it allows your doctor to explain how your medical conditions limit you from working. The Social Security Administration will consider the RFC form along with other medical evidence to decide whether you qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

Currently there is no medical test to diagnose RSD. In general, we have found that you must consistently report your pain to your doctor and follow your doctor’s treatment plan to qualify for disability for RSD.

If you have other impairments in addition to reflex sympathetic dystrophy, you should also include these in your application for benefits. The Social Security Administration must take into consideration all of your impairments when deciding whether you qualify for disability benefits. For more on this subject read our blog article: Do Multiple Disabilities Improve the Odds of Receiving Benefits?

If you have RSD or another disabling injury or illness and your condition has made it impossible for you to hold a job, contact us at Nash Disability Law for a free evaluation of your situation.

We can help you navigate through the complex SSA disability claims process and guide you on the best path forward. We have offices in Chicago and Palos Hills and we can help you avoid costly disability mistakes.