In presenting a claim for Social Security disability based on a diagnosis of cancer, keep in mind that the base-line requirement for disability is that a person is unable to work, or is expected to be unable to work for at least 12 consecutive months. A claim can be filed before the first 12 months elapses, if the treating physician says the treatment will be disabling for at least 12 months.
As treatment modalities have evolved, some cancers have become quite treatable. Some patients have a few very intense months of treatment, and then become functional again. Such a patient would not be eligible for disability. If the prognosis is uncertain, we sometimes recommend application for benefits – one can always withdraw the application. The wait for decisions is so lengthy that it is not advisable to begin the process a year into a treatment that did not go as well as planned.
Social Security has a new program for “compassionate allowances.” This is meant to fast-track claims for people with certain diagnoses. One example is Stage 4 ovarian cancer, and it also includes many stage four cancers. Generally, if a cancer is inoperable and not likely to respond to chemotherapy, radiation or other treatments, the claim will be granted.
There is a delicate balance in the decision to apply for disability with a cancer diagnosis. Often people want to see themselves in the stream of recovery, and declaring themselves disabled can seem like giving up hope. However, the gain of a monthly benefit payment and medical benefits should not be disregarded. Consider that these federal insurance programs may help pay for treatment, and reduce overall stress.
Often people are months into a cancer diagnosis before they think of seeking assistance from Social Security. The course of chemotherapy and radiation is cumulative, unpredictable and often debilitating in itself. Depression is a common side-effect and should be documented.
Clinical records alone do not paint the whole picture. A patient diary is useful. Observations from family and friends are helpful to establish ongoing weakness, nausea and fatigue. The combined information is needed to show the true effect of the disease and treatment on the capacity to work.
American Cancer Society – National non-profit dedicated to the fight against cancer.
National Cancer Institute – Government agency that is loaded with all information related to cancer.
Disability Evaluation Under Social Security – Most cancers fall under the 13.00 listing under the Listings of Impairments.