Social Security Disability Benefits May be Available After a Cancer Diagnosis

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, you may be out of work for an extended period of time to receive treatment. Fortunately, there could be resources available to you and your family to help make ends meet while you treat your cancer. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers financial benefits to millions of Americans every year to pay for medical bills, childcare costs, and day-to-day living expenses like rent or groceries. This article will describe how cancer could medically qualify for benefits, and how you can get the application process started.

Medically Qualifying for Disability with Cancer

Disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) are only available to the terminally ill or to those with a severe impairment that prevents employment for a year or longer. Many forms of cancer meet these basic medical eligibility standards. Once approved, you can continue to receive disability benefits, as long as you remain medically qualified. This will allow your family to worry less about finances and focus instead on your treatments and recovery.

Meeting a Disability Listing

Before you can be approved for benefits, the SSA must review your complete medical record. Test results and other medical details are compared with standard disability listings that appear in the SSA’s Blue Book. The Blue Book is a guide used when evaluating every applicant for disability benefits. It includes test results or symptoms needed to qualify.

Within the cancer section of the Blue Book, there are listings for various diseases, including cancers that develop in the nervous system, lungs, liver, and other organs. There are also listings for specific types of cancer, like leukemia and lymphoma, for example.

Supporting a Disability Claim

Certain cancers qualify for benefits for a minimum of 12 to 24 months after diagnosis and/or treatment. With Leukemia for instance, your medical records will be compared with the details in listing 13.06, which requires you have acute leukemia or chronic myelogenous leukemia. In either case, the SSA must see diagnosis documentation, including lab work and pathology reports as well as treatment records.

When you apply for benefits with a form of carcinoma however, the SSA reviews your claim under the listing for the body system in which the disease started, even if it has spread to other locations. Thyroid cancer, for example, is reviewed under the listing 13.09 and requires you have anaplastic, metastatic, or medullary carcinoma.

With thyroid cancer, the medical records necessary for approval include needle aspirate or biopsy results, surgical notes, and treatment records. A physician’s report, describing the diagnosis and the grade and stage of cancer is also necessary, including information on the development and location of metastatic tumors.

Some cancers, such as esophageal cancer, will qualify with simply a diagnosis. Because the Blue Book is available entirely online, you can review it with your oncologist or medical team and see if it looks like you might medically qualify for your specific diagnosis.

Proving Disability Without Meeting a Cancer Listing

If your treatments have cured your cancer but left you disabled, then you may get benefits by proving that you’re unable to perform any job duties within your skillset due to your illness. Showing your inability to work is done through an RFC, or Residual Functional Capacity evaluation. An RFC requires you, your doctor, and others complete questionnaires about your “activities of daily living” or ALDs. An ALD might be lifting weight, standing or walking, or being able to complete usual tasks, such as driving or taking public transportation. If limitations you face with ALDs would also stop you from holding a job and earning a living, then the SSA can still grant you benefits even though you don’t meet any of the cancer disability listings.  

A good example of someone who might qualify without meeting a listing would be a woman with Stage II breast cancer. Breast cancer usually doesn’t qualify till Stage III-B or higher, but if an applicant was facing 12 months of intensive chemotherapy that would keep her from working a labor-intensive job (such as waiting tables at a restaurant), she might qualify for disability benefits with a less advanced stage of cancer.

You can download an RFC online for your doctor to fill out on your behalf.

Applying for Benefits

Before starting your application, consider reviewing the SSA’s disability starter kit, which will explain the application process and the records you’ll need for filing. Once you have all of your documentation gathered, take advantage of the online disability application for filing remotely. Or, if you prefer, you can file for both benefit programs in person at your local SSA office. So long as you have medical evidence showing you either meet a Blue Book listing or are unable to work, you should be approved in five months, although some claimants are approved even quicker.