Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Social Security Disability Benefits and Cancer

Informative guest post

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, it is likely that you are most concerned with important details like treatment options and doctor appointments. While the first few days after receiving a diagnosis are often chaotic and emotional, it is important that you take the time to plan for the future.  Depending on the type and severity of your cancer, you may eventually find that you are unable to continue working. The resulting loss of income paired with expensive medical bills can be financially devastating.

Fortunately, the Social Security Administration (SSA) offers financial benefits to sick or disabled individuals who can no longer work. The following article will give you a general understanding of Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits and will help you prepare for the application process.

Social Security Disability Benefit Programs

The SSA governs two separate programs that distribute SSD benefits—SSDI and SSI. It is important that you research these two programs and understand the differences between them before you begin the application process.

• Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) - The SSDI program provides financial assistance to disabled workers and their families. Eligibility for SSDI is determined by an applicant’s employment history and the amount of Social Security taxes they’ve paid. To make this easier to understand, the SSA assigns a specific amount of “work credits” to each quarter an individual earns income and pays taxes. To qualify for SSDI, applicants must have accumulated a certain amount of work credits. Learn more about the specific SSDI requirements, here: http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/ssdi/qualify-for-ssdi.

• Supplemental Security Income (SSI) - The SSI program offers benefits to elderly or disabled individuals who earn very little income. To qualify for SSI, applicants are not allowed to exceed very strict financial limits. SSI does not consider an applicant’s work history. Therefore, SSI is often a good fit for children or other individuals who haven’t had the chance to earn work credits. Learn more about SSI, here: http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/ssi/qualify-for-ssi.

To qualify for either program, applicants must meet the SSA’s definition of disability. The SSA considers a person disabled if they meet the following criteria:

• Your condition makes it impossible for you to perform substantial gainful activity (SGA). SGA is any job in which you earn more than $1,040 a month.

• Your condition has lasted or is expected to last at least one year or result in death.

Medical Disability Requirements

To gauge the severity of your cancer, the SSA will evaluate your condition based on the standards set in their guidebook of disabling conditions, known as the blue book. The blue book lists potentially disablingconditions along with specific medical criteria that an applicant must meet in order to qualify. Because cancer is a complex disease and affects everyone differently, the SSA typically evaluates cancer claims on a case-by-case basis.  This means that the blue book criteria will differ based on the type of cancer that you have.

You can find all of the blue book listings on the SSA’s website: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/AdultListings.htm.

If you find that you do not meet the criteria of a blue book listing, you may still be able to qualify under a medical vocational allowance. Essentially, this means, that the SSA has determined that your condition keeps you from working regardless of the fact that you don’t meet the blue book requirements. In addition to your condition and symptoms, the SSA will also look at your age, work background, and level of education.

Compassionate Allowance Listings

It take anywhere from several months to over a year to receive a decision on your initial disability claim. The SSA realizes that individuals with severely debilitating conditions may not be able to wait that long to receive benefits. For this reason, the SSA allows individuals with certain conditions to be approved for benefits in as little as ten days. This is called compassionate allowance processing. You can view the compassionate allowance listings here: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances/

Please note that you do not have to fill out additional paperwork or request compassionate allowanceprocessing. The SSA will evaluate your claim, and if it meets compassionate allowance standards, they will expedite it accordingly.

Beginning the Application Process

One of the most important parts of applying for SSD benefits is providing thorough documentation of  your cancer. The SSA will use this documentation as proof of your illness. Without it, you will not be approved. Medical documentation should include records of your diagnosis, medical lab test results, diagnostic imaging, history of hospitalizations, treatments you’ve received and how you responded, as well as an official statement from each of your doctors.  You should also collect copies of personal financial records and documentation of your work history.  Once you are prepared to begin the application procedures, you can do so online at the SSA’s website or in person at your local Social Security office.  You should keep in mind that the SSD application process is, by no means, easy.  You may find it to be overwhelming and discouraging at times. It is important that you remain persistent in your efforts—even if your initial claim is denied.  If you find yourself in that situation, you have the right to appeal the SSA’s decision.

For more information about the appeal process, visit Social Security Disability Help or contact Molly Clarke at mac@ssd-help.org.