Tips on Applying for Disability with Cancer

By Deanna Power, Director of Community Outreach, Social Security Disability Help 

The following information was provided by Deanna Power, Director of Community Outreach for Social Security Disability Help.   A resource whose aim is to assist people at all stages of the Social Security Disability application process, from initially applying, to keeping benefits after being approved. It is not affiliated with the Social Security Administration. If you’d like to ask SSDH for help with your claim, you are welcome to contact Deanna Power at drp@ssd-help.org.



Each year, millions of Americans are diagnosed with a form of cancer. The symptoms and treatments of cancer often leave patients out of work for months or more. Because of the hardships millions of families face every year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) may help financially support you and your family through one of its disability benefits programs.


Disability Programs for People with Cancer


There are two programs of disability benefits available for people with disabilities. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is for adults aged 18 and older who have worked throughout their lives. Generally, you need to have worked a job that paid Social Security taxes for at least five of the last ten years, although younger applicants with cancer will need to have worked less. SSDI recipients will be eligible for Medicare two years after the onset of their disability, or the point at which their cancer made work impossible.


Supplementary Security Income (SSI) is for claimants of all ages with little or no work history. There are strict financial limitations for SSI applicants, however. You cannot earn more than $733 per month and qualify for SSI, or more than $1,100 per month as a total household income if you are married. Once you’re approved for SSI, you will be automatically enrolled onto Medicaid in most states.


Medically Qualifying for Benefits with Cancer


The SSA uses a detailed list of conditions, called the Blue Book, to evaluate all applicants for medical eligibility. In the Blue Book, cancer can be found in section 13.00: Cancer (Malignant Neoplastic Diseases).


There are many tests available to diagnose cancer and its severity, so the SSA needs a lot of medical evidence when making decisions about your condition. The SSA requires information explaining:


·         Type of cancer you’ve been diagnosed with

·         Site of the primary tumor, and/or sites of recurrent tumors

·         Site(s) the tumors have spread to, if applicable

·         Duration, frequency of relapse, and responses to anticancer treatment


Every form of cancer will qualify differently. Some cancers can qualify with just a diagnosis, such as gallbladder cancer. Other cancers will need to have spread to other regions of the body or be inoperable, such as head and neck cancer.


Cancer and Compassionate Allowances


When the SSA receives an application from someone who is clearly disabled, they will expedite the approval process. This is known as a Compassionate Allowance. People with advanced stage of cancer can qualify for a Compassionate Allowance and be approved in as little as 10 days as opposed to the typical 5+ months it takes for most disability applicants to be approved.

Some cancers, such as gallbladder cancer and esophageal cancer, will qualify for a Compassionate Allowance with simply a diagnosis.


If you have a form of cancer that doesn’t automatically qualify as a Compassionate Allowance with just a diagnosis, you can typically qualify for a Compassionate Allowance if one of the following conditions is met:


·         Your cancer has spread to other regions of the body

·         Your cancer is inoperable

·         Your cancer has returned despite treatment


Applying for Social Security Disability


You can apply for SSDI online or at your local SSA office. All applications for SSI must be done in person at an SSA office.  In addition to your medical information, you also need personal identification and tax documents. If you leave necessary pieces out of the application, your claim may be delayed or denied. Almost 70 percent of applicants are denied at the initial claim, and it’s often because the SSA is missing information.


Keep in mind that although 70% of claimants are initially denied, this includes all applicants. Some disabilities are much harder to be approved, such as a mental illness. Applicants with cancer have a much better chance of getting approved initially than most other applicants. With a carefully completed application, you can hopefully get the financial resources you need quickly.







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