Skip to main content

Social Security Disability Benefits and Cancer

By Abby Henry Singh May 29, 2013Pearls of Wisdom Blog

A cancer diagnosis can affect every aspect of a person’s life. Although certain life changes are immediately apparent endless doctor visits, treatment side effects, and emotional turbulence other changes may surface later on. Among these less obvious changes, you may find at a certain point, that you can no longer continue working. Without a job it can become difficult to juggle medical bills and everyday expenses.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes that cancer can make it impossible for an individual to work and offers financial assistance in the form of Social Security Disability benefits. If you have been diagnosed with cancer and find that you cannot continue to work, it may be in your best interest to apply for Social Security Disability benefits.

The following article will provide you with a brief overview of the disability application process and will begin to prepare you to file your disability claim.

SSA Definition of Disability

The SSA offers disability benefits through two separate programs. Although each program has its own set of technical eligibility requirements, to qualify for either you must first meet the SSA’s definition of disability. In other words, your application must prove that you have a condition or illness that keeps you from working and is expected to last a year or longer. It is important to note that individuals who undergo a stem cell or bone marrow transplant will automatically be considered disabled for at least one year.

Disability Programs

The first program is called Social Security Disability Insurance or SSDI. Eligibility for SSDI is determined by work history. The SSA assigns a certain amount of, what they refer to as, “work credits” to each year that an individual works. To qualify for SSDI an applicant must meet the SSA’s work credit requirements. You can learn more about these requirements here:

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is the second benefit program that the SSA offers. SSI is a needs-based program and does not require work credits to qualify. Instead, an individual must meet the limits set on income and financial resources. Learn more about these specific limits here: SSI is a good option for younger individuals and those who may not have enough work credits to satisfy the SSDI requirements.

In some cases, it is possible for individuals to receive benefits from both programs.

It is important to note that neither SSI nor SSDI are medical insurance programs. However, individuals approved for SSI will automatically qualify for Medicaid a needs-based, state-level health insurance program. Those who qualify for SSDI will be eligible to receive Medicare coverage after a 24 month waiting period. Medicare is federal health insurance program.

Qualifying with Cancer

Cancer is a complex disease that affects every person differently. For this reason, the SSA processes cancer disability claims on a case by case basis. It is important to note that individuals with advance stage cancer may qualify for a “Compassionate Allowance”. The compassionate allowance program allows individuals with extremely serious conditions to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits in as little as ten days. For a list of the conditions that qualify for compassionate allowance processing, see this page: Please note, you do not need to fill out additional paperwork to qualify for the compassionate allowance program.

To qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, you will need to provide the SSA with thorough documentation of your condition. When your application is evaluated, the SSA will use medical evidence to determine if you are capable of working or not. This medical evidence may include documentation of your diagnosis, lab tests, treatment history, response to treatments, and records of hospitalizations.

It often helps to work closely with your doctor to collect this information. He or she can write an official note to the SSA, explaining exactly how your condition keeps you from performing everyday tasks.

Initiating the Process

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, you should apply for Social Security Disability benefits as soon as you know the extent of your condition and the treatment that you will need to undergo. Once you decide to apply for disability benefits, you should immediately start to collect medical, employment, and financial records. You can fill out your initial application forms online at the SSA’s website or in person at your local Social Security office.

Please be aware that the majority of initial disability claims are denied. If you are denied, do not be discouraged. You have the right to appeal this decision and it is important that you don’t give up. Remember, Social Security Disability benefits are available to help you receive the financial assistance you need.

Although the application process may seem overwhelming, it is often a necessary step toward relieving the stress caused by financial instability.

Author: Molly Clarke

Bio: Molly Clarke writes for Social Security Disability Help, an informational website that works to promote disability awareness and assist those applying for disability benefits. She can be reached at 857-366-7629 or

Abby Henry Singh

Author Abby Henry Singh

Manger Content, Outreach, and Outcomes Abby Henry Singh is a native of Sevierville, Tennessee, and a graduate of Belmont University with a bachelor’s degree in English and history. She has been a member of PearlPoint Cancer Support for over 5 years. Previously, Singh was the Program and Outreach Manger for the Lupus Foundation of America, Mid-South Chapter where she worked to raise disease awareness and support those diagnosed with the disease through educational programs. She is a member of Alpha Gamma Delta sorority and the Belmont English alumni book club.

More posts by Abby Henry Singh

Leave a Reply