Are cancer patients eligible for Social Security disability payments?

For some diagnoses the Social Security Administration may immediately approve a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claim

Few conditions are as serious as cancer. For this reason, a cancer diagnosis usually, but not always, creates a strong basis for a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claim. Certain cancers are likely to result in the Social Security Administration immediately granting disability payments. These may include brain or spinal cord cancers, breast cancer, mesothelioma, “oat cell” cancer of the lung, primary liver cancer and pancreatic cancer.

The Social Security Administration maintains a list of ailments that qualify for “compassionate allowances,” meaning that disability payments can be approved quickly for people whose diagnosis makes their disability eminently clear.

Yet not all cancers are disabling. For the Social Security Administration to approve a claim, the cancer may have to be metastatic, inoperable or otherwise unable to be controlled. For cancers that do not automatically qualify, medical records, blood work, biopsies, X-rays, MRI and CT scans, and doctors’ notes can help establish that the cancer is serious enough to render the patient disabled.

If a cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, for example, an applicant may qualify for disability benefits based on the Social Security Administrations criteria for neoplastic disease. If a cancer has not spread widely and has been removed, the SSA may evaluate how much functionality the patient has retained, what is or her work history is, and other factors. Even for cancer patients, a disability judge may weigh “vocational factors” in making the determination.

It is also important to be aware that receiving disability for cancer for some period of time does not necessarily mean such payments will be permanent. If a tumor or metastatic disease recedes and remains in remission for three or more years, recipients of SSDI may no longer satisfy the criteria for disability based on a neoplastic disease. On the other hand, even without meeting those requirements, a patient may still receive disability based on a more general loss of residual functional capacity. Battling cancer takes a toll, and even cancer survivors may suffer lingering disabilities, either because of the illness itself, or because of the treatments they have undergone. In such cases, the patients will remain entitled to benefits.

Aggressive, malignant cancers may lead to quick eligibility, while individuals with more treatable cancers may face more challenges when seeking disability benefits. Patients must focus on health first, but afterwards, legal counsel can help ensure that they receive the disability payments for which they qualify.

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