The effect of rate of decline of kidney function on risk for death is not well understood. Using the Department of Veterans Affairs national databases, we retrospectively studied a cohort of 4171 patients who had rheumatoid arthritis and early stage 3 chronic kidney disease (CKD; estimated GFR 45 to 60 ml/min) and followed them longitudinally to characterize predictors of disease progression and the effect of rate of kidney function decline on mortality. After a median of 2.6 years, 1604 (38%) maintained stable kidney function; 426 (10%), 1147 (28%), and 994 (24%) experienced mild, moderate, and severe progression of CKD, respectively (defined as estimated GFR decline of 0 to 1, 1 to 4, and >4 ml/min per yr). Peripheral artery disease predicted moderate progression of CKD progression. Black race, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and peripheral artery disease predicted severe progression of CKD. After a median of 5.7 years, patients with severe progression had a significantly increased risk for mortality (hazard ratio 1.54; 95% confidence interval 1.30 to 1.82) compared with those with mild progression; patients with moderate progression exhibited a similar trend (hazard ratio 1.10; 95% confidence interval 0.98 to 1.30). Our results demonstrate an independent and graded association between the rate of kidney function decline and mortality. Incorporating the rate of decline into the definition of CKD may transform a static definition into a dynamic one that more accurately describes the potential consequences of the disease for an individual.