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Social Security Disability Often Aids Cancer Patients

Published on September 3rd, 2019

A diagnosis of cancer shakes a patient. Regardless of the type, just the word changes the life of patients and their family. Often the symptoms of both the disease, and the treatment, may make full time work impossible and allow for an award of Social Security disability benefits.

Several years ago, Social Security instituted the “Compassionate Allowance” analysis, identifying certain diseases that almost always resulted in favorable decisions. Claimants with conditions on the List would be approved in an expedited manner with a more thorough review done later.

There are now more than 220 conditions on the Compassionate Allowance list, and many of them relate to cancer diagnoses. For example, Acute Leukemia, Adult Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, Bladder Cancer, Esophageal Cancer, and Brain Cancer, among others, are all Compassionate Allowance conditions. It is sufficient to simply have the diagnosis confirmed in writing from the oncologist at the time of filing for disability.

For some other cancers, it is not the diagnosis, but the fact that the cancer has either spread, become inoperable, or has reoccurred that qualifies for Compassionate Allowance consideration. Examples of these conditions are bladder cancer, breast cancer, and head and neck cancers. If the medical report establishes that the condition has metastasized beyond the original area, or has been treated and reoccurred, or is inoperable, the application should be quickly approved as a Compassionate Allowance.

In Social Security Disability Insurance applications (SSDI), just because the application is approved quickly, claimants still have the five-month elimination period after their onset date before benefits begin.

The grey area is for a claimant with cancer diagnoses who do not meet the Compassionate Allowance requirements. The most common are patients with breast cancer. Treatment for many patients include identification of the tumor, some type of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. This entire process often lasts far less than 12 months. If the treatment is successful, an application will be denied because the patient was not “totally disabled” for at least one year.

Often, benefits can be won with evidence of other problems caused by cancer. For example, if there is medical treatment for lymphodema and despite treatment that condition impairs the use of an arm, that can be a factor, especially for claimants over 50 years old. Treatment with a psychiatrist and therapist for depression and anxiety add another impairment to the claim that may last more than 12 months and allow for the award of benefits.

Chronic pain, severe fatigue, deteriorated concentration from chemotherapy, and severe peripheral neuropathy are other chronic, severe side effects of cancer and its treatment.

The key message for the all claimants is to make sure they are medically treating not only their cancer, but all of the other issues that the condition, and the treatment, create for the patient. The records of the treating specialists will be the focus of the case. Describing symptoms and limitations at every medical visit is critical.

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