Americans who can’t work because of a medical condition may be eligible for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). To qualify for these benefits, however, you must meet the standards set forth for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This includes proving that your medical or mental health condition qualifies as a disability.
After receiving a cancer diagnosis, you may be curious about whether you qualify for Social Security disability benefits. People with cancer may be eligible for benefits if their illness prevents them from working and earning income. This may occur due to the cancer itself – or the effect of cancer treatment on a person’s body.
The lawyers of Bross & Frankel are fierce advocates for people with disabilities. We represent individuals with all types of conditions as they seek Social Security disability, long-term disability, veterans’ benefits, and other types of benefits. Reach out today to schedule a free claim review with a member of our team about your SSDI or SSI claim.
Is Cancer a Disability?
- Whether you can engage in substantial gainful activity;
- If your condition is severe and has lasted or is expected to last for 12 months or longer, or be terminal;
- If your condition meets or equals a condition on the listing of impairments;
- If it does not meet or equal a condition on the listing of impairments, whether you can perform the type of work that you did in the past; and
- If you cannot perform your past work, whether you can do any work.
The listing of impairments, also known as the “blue book,” is a document that is maintained by the SSA. It contains certain health conditions that are considered disabilities. Many forms of cancer are included on this list, including:
- Skin cancers that have spread (metastasized) beyond localized lymph nodes;
- Soft tissue cancers of the head and neck;
- Lymphoma that persists or recurs after treatment;
- Acute leukemia;
- Some types of breast cancer;
- Inoperable or recurrent bone cancers;
- Lung cancer;
- Stomach cancer
- Cancers that impact the central nervous system
- Esophageal cancers
- Liver cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Gallbladder cancer
- Inoperable or recurrent kidney or intestinal cancer
- Bladder cancer that has metastasized, is inoperable, or has recurred after surgery
- Cervical cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Uterine cancer
- Prostate cancer that is progressive, recurrent, or that has metastasized
- Cancer of the penis that has metastasized beyond regional lymph nodes
- Testicular cancer that is progressive or recurrent
For some types of cancer, the SSA considers a person to be disabled for a period of time after the original diagnosis or specific treatment. For example, if an individual is diagnosed with acute leukemia, they will be considered disabled for at least 24 months after the original cancer diagnosis or 12 months after a stem cell or bone marrow transplant.
Even if a type of cancer is not on the listing of impairments, it can still be considered a disability if it is the equivalent of a listing or if it affects a person’s ability to participate in substantial gainful activity (work). This is particularly true for more advanced forms of cancer that are considered inoperable, that have metastasized, or that have recurred after chemotherapy, radiation, or other treatment. Cancer that is caught in early stages and that responds well to treatment is less likely to qualify as a disability for Social Security purposes.
Can Cancer Treatment Qualify As a Disability?
As people with cancer know all too well, treatment for cancer can be incredibly harsh. If you cannot work due to the side effects of treatment or if you suffer long-term effects from cancer treatment, then you may be eligible for disability. This is true even if your original cancer diagnosis does not meet or equal the cancer listings.
Radiation and chemotherapy can cause a range of side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, weakness, skin, and mental ailments. People who are undergoing these treatments are often unable to work for a period of time. In some situations, it may be possible to qualify for Social Security disability for these side effects.
However, the side effects of cancer treatment can vary quite a bit. They may be temporary and fluctuate over the course of treatment. For this reason, the SSA will typically require the submission of medical evidence to prove that an individual was not able to work due to the side effects of cancer treatment.
In some cases, cancer survivors have permanent side effects from their treatment. These conditions may not appear for months or even years after chemotherapy and/or radiation has concluded. When a person is disabled because of their cancer treatment, they may be eligible for Social Security disability.
Chemotherapy has been associated with a number of impairments, including bone weakness, lung disease, heart problems, cataracts, reproductive disorders, and liver problems. Radiation may cause heart problems, lung disease, cognitive dysfunction, eye problems, hypothyroidism, reproductive disorders, intestinal problems, and bone weakness. If you develop one or more of these long-term medical impairments as a result of your cancer treatment, then you may be approved for Social Security based on that specific disability.
When Can You Get Disability If You Have Cancer?
If you have been diagnosed with cancer, then you may be able to apply for disability immediately if you are expected to be unable to work for at least 12 months or if the cancer is terminal. You do not have to wait until you are unable to work to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance.
If your cancer is so severe that it obviously meets the SSA’s cancer listings, then you may be eligible for a Compassionate Allowance. You don’t need to fill out a special application to get a compassionate allowance. Once your regular application is filed, the SSA will expedite it when they identify that you have a compassionate allowance condition.
When it comes to filing for disability, it can be difficult to determine when exactly a person “got” cancer. Unfortunately, cancer is often able to grow and spread undetected, or with few symptoms. Typically, the SSA will set the date of disability as the day that you received your cancer diagnosis.
However, you may be able to prove that you became disabled before being officially diagnosed. To make a determination, the SSA will look at:
- When you first reported symptoms to your doctor;
- The type of cancer;
- Where the cancer is located; and
- What stage the cancer was at when it was diagnosed.
The date of disability is important because a disability claimant may be awarded back pay to the date that they became disabled if their application is approved. An experienced disability benefits lawyer can advocate for an earlier date of disability based on your medical records and other evidence.
How Can I Apply for Disability for Cancer?
If you have been diagnosed with cancer, then you may be able to apply for Social Security disability benefits. Depending on your financial situation and work history, you may qualify for SSDI and/or SSI.
An application for Social Security disability benefits can be submitted online or at a local SSA office. As part of the application process, you will need to provide documentation about your employment history, financial situation (for SSI), medical records, education, and job training (for SSDI).
Providing supporting documentation from your medical providers is especially important. While many types of cancer automatically qualify for disability benefits because they meet a blue book condition, other types of cancer may require additional evidence. If your cancer diagnosis is not in the blue book or does not qualify for a compassionate allowance, then you will have to prove that your cancer meets the SSA’s definition of disability.
Evidence to support your application may include:
- Medical records that show a diagnosis of cancer, such as biopsy results or a pathology report
- Surgical or biopsy notes
- A report from a doctor stating that a tumor is not operable or cannot be removed
- Imaging scans that show the location of the tumors or how the cancer is spreading
- Details regarding cancer treatments, including the type of treatment, frequency, and any side effects
An experienced New Jersey disability benefits lawyer can work with you to gather the types of evidence that you need to qualify for SSDI and/or SSI. They can also take on the task of filling out paperwork and making sure that it is appropriately filed.
If your application for benefits is denied by the Social Security Administration, there are four levels of appeal. To appeal a denial, you will need to request reconsideration within 60 days of the initial determination.
If the reconsideration request is denied, then you may file a request for a hearing with an administrative law judge, followed by a request for review by the appeals council. The final step in the appeals process is to file a lawsuit in federal court. A disability attorney can advocate for you throughout the appeals process.
When Am I Considered No Longer Disabled from Cancer?
If your cancer has been successfully treated and you have been in remission for three or more years, then you will no longer qualify for Social Security benefits. This is known as the “three-year rule.” Under the three-year rule, if you are awarded disability benefits because of a cancer diagnosis, then you will receive disability for at least three years.
Qualifying for disability benefits can still be difficult, even with a serious medical condition like cancer. An experienced disability benefits lawyer can help you through the process. Contact Bross & Frankel to schedule a free initial consultation about your disability claim.
I Can Still Work While Undergoing Cancer Treatment. Can I Get Social Security Disability?
No. If you are able to work above a certain level, then you do not meet the definition of disability, according to the Social Security Administration. You must not be able to engage in “substantial gainful activity” for 12 months or longer in order to qualify for benefits through the SSA.
There may be other options for disability benefits, such as short-term disability or long-term disability through your own insurance. A disability attorney can walk you through your options for benefits based on your specific situation. Give our law firm a call for a free claim review with an NJ disability benefits lawyer.
Does a Cancer Diagnosis Automatically Qualify Me for Social Security Disability Benefits?
Some types of cancer will automatically qualify you for Social Security disability. These include any cancer that is Stage IV or terminal, that is inoperable or recurrent, or that is listed in the blue book. Otherwise, you will need to submit evidence to show that your cancer meets or exceeds a condition on the listing of impairments.
No matter what type of cancer you have, you may need help applying for SSDI and/or SSI benefits. Our law firm has substantial experience representing clients who are seeking disability benefits. Reach out to schedule a free claim review with a member of our legal team.
Help for Cancer Patients Seeking Disability Benefits
Being diagnosed with cancer can be incredibly scary. In addition to facing your own mortality, cancer can also cause financial hardship due to lost wages and medical expenses. Filing for disability benefits can help you maintain financial stability while you focus on your health.
Based in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Bross & Frankel represents people with disabilities throughout NJ and PA. We have handled thousands of cases before the Social Security Administration, and are intimately familiar with every aspect of the process – from the initial application through a final appeal. In each case, our goal is to help our clients get the benefits that they are entitled to under the law.
Rich Frankel is the managing partner of Bross & Frankel. He is a member of the New Jersey and Pennsylvania bars. He has focused exclusively on disability and social security benefits since 2005.
Mr. Frankel joined what is now Bross & Frankel after having watched his father struggle with disability, fighting a lengthy illness. Mr. Frankel founded the firm’s veteran’s law practice and substantially grew the social security disability practice, focusing Bross & Frankel’s ability to fight for all of the disability benefits available to his clients.
Mr. Frankel additionally fights for clients in court, obtaining frequent victories in Social Security appeals and against insurance companies in Federal court.