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Cancer costs.

Few people realize how financially devastating cancer is for many people. It drains one’s savings (even with good health insurance); it may disrupt one’s ability to earn a living in the short and long term; and incurs endless bills outside traditional “health care” that go on and on.

This is part of a series of personal stories about the financial (and very human) cost of cancer. You can find the earlier articles by searching #CancerCosts on the site. 

Over the next several weeks we will be looking at the process of applying for disability.  The disability bureaucracy can be frustrating, laborious and repetitive. This series is compliments of  The Outreach Team at Disability Benefits Help www.disability-benefits-help.org.


Compassionate Allowances and Social Security Benefits

Social Security disability claims can be exceptionally confusing, and it may take years to get approved. Although the average initial claim takes around five months to process, some conditions will be approved much quicker. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an aggressive or advanced form of cancer, you may qualify for expedited benefits.


What is a Compassionate Allowance?

A Compassionate Allowance condition is a disability or illness that clearly warrants disability benefits. When the SSA receives applications from people who have a condition that qualifies as a Compassionate Allowance, it will flag the application for expedited review and approval.  If your form of cancer qualifies as a Compassionate Allowance, you can expect to be approved in as little as 10 days.


What forms of cancer qualify for a Compassionate Allowance?

The SSA has a list of all qualifying Compassionate Allowances online. Some cancers that will qualify with just a diagnosis include:

  • Esophageal cancer
  • Gallbladder cancer
  • Inflammatory breast cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Sinonasal cancer
  • Thyroid cancer

If your cancer does not qualify with only a diagnosis, you may still qualify for a Compassionate Allowance, so long as you meet one of the following criteria:

  • Your cancer has spread to distant organs
  • Your cancer is inoperable
  • Your cancer has returned despite treatment
  • You have small cell cancer, which is aggressive and hard to treat


Does this mean that I receive benefits sooner?

Unfortunately, a quick approval does not mean you’ll receive benefits quickly. No matter how advanced or aggressive, the SSA will wait for 5 months to elapse after you apply for Social Security to begin sending you monthly benefits. This is why it’s important to apply for benefits as soon as possible.

If your cancer is approved for a Compassionate Allowance, you will also need to wait for 24 months before becoming eligible for Medicare. Fortunately, the 24 months does not start from the date at which you applied, but at the point at which your cancer became “disabling.” This could mean the moment of your diagnosis if you immediately began treatment and stopped working, or it could be another point in time if your cancer progressed after you were diagnoses.


There is no separate Compassionate Allowance application. The SSA will process your claim quickly on its own so long as your cancer diagnosis qualifies. To start the application process, you can visit the SSA’s website, or make an appointment at your closest SSA office by calling toll-free at 1-800-772-1213.


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