Disability Benefits After a Cancer Diagnosis

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with cancer, you might be worried about making ends meet during your treatments if you’re unable to work. If you’ll be out of work for at least 12 months due to your cancer or treatments, you might be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers financial resources for people in need who are unable to earn income due to a serious illness or injury. 

While a cancer diagnosis will not usually “automatically” qualify, you may be eligible depending on the type of cancer you have, or the stage at which your cancer was diagnosed.

Qualifying Via the Blue Book

The SSA refers to its own medical guide known as the “Blue Book” when evaluating every person who applies for benefits with cancer. Qualifying with cancer will completely vary depending on your diagnosis—Some will qualify with your doctor’s diagnosis alone, but some will need to be advanced or recurrent.

For example, liver cancer will automatically qualify for disability benefits with only a diagnosis. Someone diagnosed with lung cancer, on the other hand, will need to meet one of the following criteria to qualify:

  • The cancer is inoperable
  • The cancer has returned despite treatment
  • The cancer has spread beyond your lung’s hilar nodes
  • You have small-cell/oat-cell lung cancer

Fortunately, the entire Blue Book is available online. You can review Section 13.00 of the Blue Book with your doctor to determine if your cancer diagnosis might qualify for disability benefits.

Review with your doctor to determine if you qualify.

Compassionate Allowances and Cancer

The average initial claim is approved in three months or so, but if your claim goes through the appeals process, it can take two years or more to finally be approved for disability benefits. Some conditions are so clearly disabling and warranting of approval, they require expedited approval. The SSA maintains a list of conditions that will be approved quickly, known as Compassionate Allowance conditions. If you have one of the following forms of cancer, your condition could be approved in as little as ten days:

  • Acute Leukemia
  • Adrenal Cancer
  • Adult Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
  • Any Small-Sell Form of Cancer
  • Childhood Brain Cancer
  • Esophageal Cancer
  • Gallbladder Cancer
  • Inflammatory Breast Cancer
  • Liver Cancer
  • Pancreatic Cancer
  • Salivary Cancers
  • Sinonasal Cancer
  • Thyroid Cancer

Additionally, any other form of cancer not listed (breast, prostate, lung, etc.) can qualify for a Compassionate Allowance if one of the following criteria is met:

  • Your cancer has returned despite at least three months’ treatment
  • Your cancer is inoperable
  • Your cancer has spread to other organs or distant regions of the body

There is no additional work you need to do to qualify for a Compassionate Allowance. Simply submit your application as usual, and it’ll be flagged for expedited review automatically.

Starting Your Social Security Administration 

If you would like to apply for disability benefits, you can do so online on the SSA’s website. You can also start an application on behalf of a child with cancer online, but you will need to complete the process at your local SSA office. Appointments can be made by calling the SSA toll-free at 1-800-772-1213. 

Most applications will be approved in a few months, but as mentioned earlier, those with Compassionate Allowances will be approved in just a couple of short weeks. Disability benefits can be used on your hospital bills, any childcare costs, rent or your mortgage, car payments, or any other daily living needs.

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