Fibromyalgia Disability

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Most people who have fibromyalgia can continue working with the help of simple modifications to their work environment; however, this requires open discussions with – and support from – the patient’s boss and coworkers. To facilitate and aid in this discussion, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Job Accommodation Network (JAN) offers a list of suggestions for workplace modification guidelines for patients with fibromyalgia. These modifications are separated according to symptom type, and include suggestions for accommodating cognitive symptoms, depression and anxiety, fatigue, fine and gross motor skill impairment, headaches, and sleeping disorders, among others. A full listing of these suggested workplace accommodations can be viewed by clicking the following link:  http://askjan.org/media/Fibro.html 

Unfortunately, some patients may not work in an environment where their supervisors or coworkers are supportive of their fibromyalgia, and even government-backed recommendations such as those referred to above may not be enough to encourage and receive support. In addition, some patients may have fibromyalgia symptoms so severe and debilitating that they are virtually incapacitated for long periods of time, rendering them unable to work, even under modified circumstances. In such situations, patients may decide to pursue short-term fibromyalgia disability leave if such options are available through their employer-provided benefits. Due to the individualized nature of each employee’s benefits packages, the best place to start for information regarding this option is to contact your Human Resources (HR) department for information. Some patients may find that a month or two of short-term disability is enough to improve symptoms to the point that they are able to return to work. Long-term disability may also be offered through some employers, and patients should contact their HR departments for specific information on that option as well.

In addition, long-term disability is also offered through Social Security disability insurance for individuals who qualify. At the most basic level, to qualify for Social Security disability insurance, an individual must have been employed in the last five years and must have quit working due to a disability. Unfortunately, the process of obtaining Social Security disability is as complicated and individualized as fibromyalgia itself. As a result, some fibromyalgia patients may qualify for Social Security disability while others may not.

Criteria for Receiving Fibromyalgia Disability

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not specify a list of medical conditions that are considered disabilities, but rather provides a general definition of disability that each individual must meet. As such, to qualify for disability under current Federal regulations, an individual must prove that they have a severe impairment and that the impairment limits their physical and/or mental ability to work. For Social Security disability purposes, regulations define disability as “the inability to do any substantial gainful activity due to your medical or mental problem.” Furthermore, in order for a disability claim to be considered by the Social Security Administration, an individual must be able to prove that their medical or mental problem interferes with their ability to perform basic work-related activities. Individuals must also be able to prove their inability to complete previous work or other significantly gainful work. In addition, age, education, and prior work history are taken into consideration when claims are reviewed, as well as remaining abilities that are unaffected by the medical or mental problem.

Fibromyalgia is difficult to diagnose and lacks definitive laboratory criteria, both of which can serve as considerable obstacles when pursuing Social Security disability. However, the combined effect of having more than one impairment is taken into account when claims are reviewed, which can be important for many fibromyalgia patients, so many of whom suffer from multiple debilitating symptoms.

How To Apply for Social Security Disability

In order to apply for disability related to fibromyalgia, individuals can call or visit their local Social Security office, or complete an online application for disability benefits. The online application process is likely easier, as it avoids the need for multiple trips to and from the Social Security office, allows for an immediate start to the claims process, and can be done from the comfort of one’s own home or office. The online application can be used by anyone over the age of 18, who has worked and paid Social Security taxes long enough to qualify for benefits, and who has a medical condition that has prevented them from working for at least 12 months.

There are four steps to the online disability application process: 1) Review the Adult Disability Checklist; 2) complete the Disability Benefit Application; 3) Complete the Adult Disability Report form; and 4) fill out the Authorization to Disclose Information form and return it to the individual’s local Social Security office. Further information, and links to these forms, can be located by visiting the following link:  http://www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability/

Additional Resources

The following is a listing of other agencies and resources that may be useful to fibromyalgia patients who wish to pursue Social Security disability. In addition, patients may also want to seek information from their doctors, employers, and health insurance companies.

The Job Accommodation Network is a free consulting service that provides information regarding job accommodations, the ADA, and employment of disabled individuals.

West Virginia University
PO Box 6080
Morgantown, WV 26506-6080
800-526-7234 (Toll-free)
877-781-9403 (TTY)
304-293-5407 (FAX)
Email:  jan@AskJAN.org
Web:  http://AskJAN.org
 

The Office of Disability Employment Policy is an agency of the U.S. Department of Labor, which provides leadership on a national level to increase employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities and eliminate barriers to employment.

200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Room S-1303
Washington, DC 20210
202-693-7880
202-693-7881(TTY)
202-693-7888 (FAX)
Email:  infoODEP@dol.gov
Web:  http://www.dol.gov/odep/
 

The U.S. Social Security Administration is comprised of a nationwide network of more than 1,4000 offices on the local, regional, and state level, all of which deliver Social Security services that are designed to meet the changing needs of the public.

Web:  http://www.ssa.gov

 

Statistics on Fibromyalgia and Social Security Disability

Limited information is available regarding the percentage of fibromyalgia patients who receive Social Security disability. This is due in part to the fact that fibromyalgia does not fall under any one of the pre-defined diagnostic categories as specified by the Social Security Administration, and therefore those who do receive disability for their fibromyalgia are often included in the “other” diagnostic category, or have their disability attributed to a co-morbid condition. In addition, there is a great deal of editorial discussion in the medical and legal literature about the difficulties pertaining to obtaining disability insurance for fibromyalgia; however, there is a lack of statistical information regarding the prevalence of fibromyalgia disability among patients.

One study was conducted in 1997 by a group of prominent fibromyalgia researchers to determine the prevalence and reasons for self-reported work disability in individuals with fibromyalgia. For the purposes of the study, over 1,600 fibromyalgia patients from six different healthcare centers were surveyed using questionnaires and telephone calls. The study found that on average, 16% of patients received Social Security disability benefits, in comparison to 2.2% of the entire US population in general. When all types of disability payments were considered, the percentage increased to 26.5%. Despite these high prevalence of disability payments among this sampling of fibromyalgia patients, the study also found that a large majority (64%) reported being able to work all or most days of the week. Furthermore, 70% were either employed or homemakers at the time of the survey (Wolfe et al., 1997).

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References

1.        Loy, B. Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Fibromyalgia. Job Accommodation Network.  Updated April 19, 2011; Accessed May 21, 2012.

2.        Apply Online for Disability Benefits. U.S. Social Security Administration. Last reviewed or modified May 18, 2012; Accessed May 21, 2012.

Wolfe F, Anderson J, Harkness D, Bennett RM, Caro XJ, Goldenberg DL, Russell IJ, Yunus MB. Work and disability status of persons with fibromyalgia. J Rheumatol. 1997;24(6):1171-1178.

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