I Have Cancer. Can I Get Disability Benefits?

MRI machineAlmost 1,700,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer this year.  The National Cancer Institute estimates that 454 people out of 100,000 will be diagnosed with cancer. For many people getting the disease means severe illness and the inability to continue working to pay their bills. Do these needy people qualify to receive Social Security disability benefits?


Not So Fast...

The answer to this question is not as simple as it appears on the surface. Receiving benefits depends on the type of cancer as well as how it is affecting the person. Some cancers are known to be aggressive and quickly debilitating so the Social Security Administration (SSA) has added them to the list of automatic qualifiers. Other slower growing or less lethal cancers are not on the list at all and the person may never qualify for benefits.

Compassionate Allowances

The SSA publishes a list called Compassionate Allowances. This list contains illnesses that could automatically qualify you to receive disability benefits. The list enables application reviewers to grant approval to people who are most likely to qualify for benefits much faster than people who must prove that they truly have disabling conditions; a process that may take as long as three years. The SSA publishes the list on its website HERE. (https://www.ssa.gov/compassionateallowances/conditions.htm) It is noted, however, that the ultimate approval of the application rests with the adjudicator.

Some cancers that may qualify for faster approval include acute leukemia, some adrenal cancers, many brain cancers (especially those causing severe symptoms or that are spreading or inoperable) and some lymphomas. Cancer involving the gallbladder, kidney, liver, pancreas and thyroid may also qualify for automatic reception of benefits.

Some cancers may not qualify until they are proven to be spreading beyond surgical intervention or are recurrent. Examples of this type of cancer are liposarcoma, melanoma, lung, osteosarcoma (bone cancer), stomach and ovarian cancers.

Combine Your Medical Ailments

While they may not warrant automatic qualification, many cancers can be combined with other medical problems to prevent a person from being capable of holding a full-time job for an extended period of time. The SSA looks at the sum of all of your medical and physical conditions to determine if you should receive benefits. As a whole, the separate conditions combined may enable you to receive disability benefits.

You Still May Qualify For Disability Benefits

Even though you may have cancer you most likely will not qualify for benefits if the cancer is believed to be curable or able to be put into remission and the cancer is not expected to affect your work capability for more than a year. In other words, if you are diagnosed with cancer and the doctors operate and remove it so that you are symptom free then you probably will not win benefits even if you were unable to work for a few period of time less than twelve months.

Your application will also probably be denied if your only reason to lose work time is due to cancer treatment and not the cancer itself. Most cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, only last a few months, well under the twelve-month non-gainful work requirement set forth by Congress.

Be Retroactive

One caveat to be considered, though, is that sometimes benefits are paid retroactively. For instance, let’s say you contract cancer and it is not on the compassionate allowances list. The doctor feels the cancer is curable with surgery and treatment. You undergo recommended regimen but the cancer returns or you have complications from surgery and ultimately a year quickly passes without your being able to work gainfully. Even if you are able to work now, with a proper application and possibly an appeal or  two, you may be able to get paid benefits for all but the first sixth months during the time you were incapacitated. This is definitely worth a try and may help you pay some back bills!

When Should I Apply for Disability Due to Cancer?

You should apply for benefits right away if your cancer has or is expected to prevent you from working gainfully for at least twelve months. Since your application may take years to be approved it is better to submit the application sooner rather than later, especially if your condition has the possibility of worsening soon.

Look at the List

After your cancer diagnosis, take a few minutes to review the complete list of compassionate allowances as we have not listed every cancer that may qualify for benefits. You may be glad you did if you are able to reduce the stress of income while also battling with a potentially debilitating disease. The good news is that more people are winning the fight against cancer today than ever before in history. 



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About the Cochran Firm Disability Lawyers
Recognized as one of the nation’s premier law firms, The Cochran Firm handles cases on behalf of clients seeking a Personal Injury Lawyer, Criminal Defense, Medical Malpractice, Bankruptcy Attorney in Atlanta or Social Security Disability Lawyer.The Firm can be reached at 1-800-THE-FIRM (1-800-843-3476) or fill out the form on this page. “Working for You.” Article by Benjamin A. Irwin, Esq.

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