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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.


Common Pitfalls when Applying for Benefits

If you have been diagnosed with cancer and are considering applying for Social Security disability benefits, you’ve likely heard that the program is very challenging to qualify for. This is true: only about 30% of initial applications are approved. To have the best chance of qualifying the first time around, here are some common application pitfalls to avoid.

Pitfall #1: Not submitting enough medical evidence

Not having proper medical records is the biggest reason for Social Security denials. You will need to be able to clearly show that your cancer is advanced enough to keep you from working for at least 12 months.

Because the SSA contacts hospitals itself, you do not need to submit physical copies of your medical records. You will however need to list the oncologists who’ve treated you, as well as all of the hospitals where you’ve been treated. If the SSA is not able to find your pathology reports, biopsies, and treatment history, you will not be approved.

Pitfall #2: Incorrectly filling out the application

There are two primary ways you could incorrectly fill out your application: You could misspell a word, or you could leave a section blank.

Misspelling key terms, such as the hospital you’ve visited, can be detrimental to your application. Of the 70% of applications that are initially denied, around 1 of 3 are said to be denied due to clerical errors. Double and triple check the spelling of your oncologists and hospitals. It could make all the difference in your claim.

The second error commonly made is not filling out fields, or not being as descriptive as possible. The more you can prove your cancer keeps you from working, the better your chance of approval. Be as thorough as possible when describing everything, from the pain your cancer complications causes, to the side effects of your chemotherapy. It’s ok if there’s a field that’s irrelevant to your claim, but just be sure to at least write in “N/A” to make sure nothing is left blank.

Pitfall #3: Working while waiting for your claim to be processed.

As challenging as it may seem, it is critical that you do not work while you wait for the SSA to review your claim. This is because working goes against the SSA’s definition of disability. If you’re earning more than $1,130 per month, the SSA will automatically deny your claim regardless of how advanced your cancer is.

Pitfall #4: Receiving unemployment benefits when you apply for Social Security

Not all additional forms of income will affect your Social Security application. For example, retirement benefits from a private, non-governmental employer will have no affect on the primary form of Social Security. Applying for unemployment, however, will affect your disability claim.

The reason why unemployment affects Social Security disability is because the two programs contradict one another. Unemployment is for people who are out of work but wish to find a job in the near future. Disability benefits are for people who will be completely unable to work for at least a year, potentially never again. It’s unwise to submit an unemployment application as the same time as a disability application.


If you’d like to apply for Social Security disability benefits, you can either start the process online, or make an appointment to apply at your local SSA office by calling the SSA toll-free at 1-800-772-1213. If you take your time with the application and fill out the form as meticulously as possible, you will hopefully be approved in around 3-5 months.


  1. Avatar
    Lisa / May 1, 2017 at 9:31 am /Reply

    I had to hire an attorney and he took care of all my paperwork. I wasn’t approved until the third time, in front of an independent judge, even though I’d had a brainstem stroke due to cancer radiation. Because I had to prove I couldn’t work at all for over two years, I ended up living in homeless shelters. I have so many medical bills that I’ll likely file for bankruptcy. All because I had oral cancer when I was just 27 years old.

  2. Pat
    Pat / May 2, 2017 at 10:03 am /Reply

    I know so many people who truly need a bit of help and the system totally fails them. One friend, with a heart transplant due to chemo and radiation, is getting hassled about disability! If people like you and her can’t get some legitimate assistance when needed, who is????

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