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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.Medical-Vocational Allowances and Cancer Applications.


Every time the Social Security Administration (SSA) receives an application for disability benefits, it will compare your illness to its own medical guide known as the Blue Book. If you do not meet the Blue Book’s qualifications for a disabling condition, you may be worried that all is lost and your claim will be denied. Fortunately, this is not always the case. Some applications will be approved through a medical-vocational allowance.

What is a Medical-Vocational Allowance?

A medical-vocational allowance is basically the SSA’s way of saying “OK, this person does not meet a Blue Book listing, but he or she is clearly disabled and qualifies for benefits.” To qualify for a medical-vocational allowance, you’ll need to prove that you cannot perform any work that you’re qualified for.

This means that your cancer needs to be severe enough to keep you from work for at least 12 months. Most cancers at Stage III or above will qualify via the Blue Book, so people who receive a medical-vocational allowance will likely have a cancer diagnosis at Stage II or below, and will be going through at least a year of chemotherapy.


Technicalities of Medical-Vocational Allowances

Unfortunately, receiving chemotherapy, radiation, or other therapies for a year is not enough to qualify. You’ll need to prove that the symptoms or complications of your treatment keeps you from performing all the work you’re qualified for.

Typically, it’s easier for older applicants with little or no education to qualify for a medical-vocational allowance. They will have an easier time proving that they have no skills that can be transferred to an easier job. If you have a college degree, you will have a much harder time qualifying for a medical-vocational allowance, because the SSA will believe that you’re capable of taking on a myriad of sedentary jobs.

Here’s a hypothetical example: John is a 56-year-old construction worker. He’s had physically active construction jobs his whole life, and has no education beyond a high school diploma. He was diagnosed with Stage II lung cancer and will be receiving chemotherapy for 14 months, making it impossible to work on sites. He has a good chance of getting approved for a medical-vocational allowance.

Linda on the other hand, is a 29-year-old marketer with a MBA. She has been diagnosed with Stage II-B breast cancer and will be receiving chemotherapy and radiation for one year. Because she is highly skilled and can perform a lot of work from home, the SSA rejects her application for disability benefits.


Starting your Social Security Application

If you wish to apply for Social Security disability benefits under a medical-vocational allowance, you will need to have your oncologist fill out a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form on your behalf. An RFC is an evaluation describing exactly how much work you’re able to do, from lifting weight, to standing, to walking. You can actually download an RFC online to bring to your oncologist.

Once you have a completed RFC, you can apply for Social Security online on the SSA’s website, or you can schedule an appointment at your local SSA office by calling the main line at 1-800-772-1213.


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