Many of my friends with advanced cancer are surprised to hear that they might be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. So when Ram Meyyappan from Social Security Disability Help contacted me to do a piece about ins and outs of disability, I quickly agreed. Here’s the scoop on this often-misunderstood set of benefits.
Cancer can take a heavy toll on you and your family financially. Oftentimes, it can prevent you from working. In situations where your cancer is so severe to the point that you can no longer work, you can turn the Social Security Administration (SSA) for help. The SSA will provide you with disability benefits if you are expected to be out of work for a year or longer due to a disability.
How to Qualify for benefits with Cancer
The SSA has a blue book of conditions that qualify for benefits. For the Conditions that are listed, the blue book explains how severe the condition has to be and what kind of medical documents you need. Cancers are covered by an entire category in the blue book called malignant neoplastic diseases (http://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/13.00-NeoplasticDiseases-Malignant-Adult.htm). It includes everything from thyroid cancer to leukemia. Each has different specific symptoms and requirements that you’d have to meet for eligibility.
If you can’t work because of a severe condition that isn’t listed in the blue book, don’t be discouraged. If your condition is equivalent to a condition that is listed in the book, you qualify. And even if you don’t, the SSA will ask further questions: Does your condition allow you to return to your old work and, if not, does it allow you to do any other kind of work? If the answer to both is no, you can get benefits.
Once the SSA is satisfied that you’re disabled and your condition is eligible, the only question left is whether you meet the financial and work requirements.
Two Disability Programs
There are two Social Security disability programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). To get SSDI, you’ll have to have worked at least five years out of the last 10 (in most cases). You don’t need any work history to get SSI, but you do need to be limited-income and have limited assets.
SSI generally pays out less than SSDI. Some people qualify for both, though not for double benefits. If you can get both, you should, because then, in many states, you’ll get both Medicare and Medicaid, and each can cover gaps in the other.
For specific information on work and income/asset requirements for SSDI and SSI, please visit: http://www.ssa.gov/disability/
What to expect during the application process
You can file an application either online or at your local SSA office. You should receive a decision on your claim within 3 to 6 months from the SSA. Don’t be discouraged if your claim is denied. More than 60% of initial applications are denied.
If you are among the denied, you can file a request for reconsideration, if that is denied as well, you can request a disability hearing with administrative law judge (ALJ). The hearing is where most applications are approved. However, it can take over a year in some states to have a hearing scheduled.
For people with very severe disabilities, it is not feasible to wait over a year to be approved for benefits. To speed up the application process for these people, the SSA created the Compassionate Allowances program.
The Compassionate Allowances program
A number of cancers qualify a speedy application process. They’re given what are called “compassionate allowances.” Basically, the SSA thinks certain diseases are so serious, and so certain to cause disability, that it grants benefits rapidly in almost every case.
If your cancer qualifies for a compassionate allowance, the SSA will decide your case based on diagnostic evidence – in other words, you don’t have to prove the course of your cancer, or what effect treatment has had, only that the cancer has been diagnosed and falls under a compassionate allowance.
For a list of conditions that qualify for a compassionate allowance, visit: http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/compassionate-allowances
Applying for disability benefits can be at times frustrating, but it is a necessity if you are out of work and need to pay the bills. If you are confused by the process, you can turn to a disability attorney or advocate for help. These attorneys and advocates all work on contingency basis, meaning they are only paid if you are successfully awarded benefits.
For more information, go to www.disability-benefits-help.org/blog.