Challenges of Getting Social Security Disability Benefits for Cancer

Cancer Patient Who Applied for SSDIThe American Cancer Society estimates that nearly two million people will be diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. in 2019. If you are one of them, you will discover a new normal of doctor visits, invasive treatments, and medical bills. You may find it difficult to continue working and want to know if Social Security disability benefits are an option for you. We will take a look at what kinds of cancer will get automatic approval from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and how to qualify if you don’t have one of these diagnoses. As with any Social Security disability claim, working with a team of disability attorneys, such as our team at Keller & Keller, will take much of the stress and anxiety out of it for you so that you can focus on beating this terrible disease.

SSDI Compassionate Allowance for Cancer

It can take many months for a Social Security disability application to be approved. Sadly, some people just don’t have time to wait for a decision. Their condition is so serious that they need disability benefits as soon as possible. To help in these situations, the SSA maintains the Compassionate Allowances List (CAL) of serious and life-threatening medical conditions that automatically qualify for expedited approval of Social Security benefits. A person diagnosed with a condition on the CAL can sometimes be granted approval within a few weeks.

There are over 50 different kinds of cancer found on the Compassionate Allowances List. The following cancers are among those that should be approved immediately regardless of the stage:

  • Acute leukemia
  • Adult non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Endometrial stromal sarcoma
  • Ewing sarcoma
  • Fibrolamellar cancer
  • Gallbladder cancer
  • Glioblastoma multiforme (brain cancer)
  • Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC)
  • Liver cancer
  • Non-small cell lung cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Small cell lung cancer
  • Thyroid cancer

Other cancers, such as adrenal cancer, breast cancer, bladder cancer, head and neck cancers, kidney cancer, osteosarcoma, ovarian cancer, skin cancers, and stomach cancer are on the list, but must also meet one of the following criteria:

  • Distant metastasis. Cancer has spread to parts of the body far from where it originated. For example, if lung cancer has spread to the liver, it has distant metastasis.
  • Inoperable. If there is no way to remove the malignant tumor safely, it is considered inoperable.
  • Unresectable. If the tumor cannot be fully removed during surgery, or the surgeon is unable to get clear margins around the tumor, it is considered unresectable.
  • Recurrent. Cancer that comes back after being removed is considered recurrent, and you should be granted a compassionate allowance.

Simply having a diagnosis that meets one of these requirements—and medical tests such as scans and bloodwork to prove it—should be enough for approval of SSDI benefits.

Qualifying for SSDI Based on the Effects of Treatment

Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, can cause fatigue, nausea, weakness, mental decline, and more. The effects of these treatments may make it impossible for you to work. However, it is difficult to get approved for benefits because your cancer treatment has made you ill. The SSA requires that you be unable to work for at least a year in order to qualify for disability and most cancer treatments don’t last that long. If you have suffered long-term or permanent side effects of treatment, such as liver problems, lung disease, or bone weakness, you may be able to qualify for disability.

Get Help From a Disability Attorney

It is devastating to get a cancer diagnosis, and it can be impossible to continue working and supporting your family while you are getting treatment. However, unless your cancer appears on the listing of impairments, it can be very difficult to get approved for SSDI to replace your lost wages. Don’t waste time and the little energy you have fighting this battle alone. Call our Indianapolis office for a free consultation with an experienced Social Security disability attorney. We will cut through the confusion so you can get the help you need as quickly as possible.


James R. Keller
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Partner at Keller & Keller