For anyone, a cancer diagnosis can be life-altering.
Your condition may affect your quality of living and prevent you from daily activities you once took for granted. You may suffer side effects from treatments such as chemo, radiation, and hormone therapies. In some cases, the effects of these treatments may become disabling to the point of impairing your ability to work.
This naturally leads to questions: Am I eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)? If I’m denied benefits, how do I appeal the decision? When I need someone to represent me, how on earth do I find a lawyer for social security disability appeal?
The process of seeking SSDI benefits can be daunting enough on its own, let alone while you’re dealing with the effects of cancer treatment. Having the right knowledge and tools can help you set realistic expectations and give yourself the best possible chance of winning your benefits.
Yet the fact remains that a cancer diagnosis means many different things to many different people. Whether or not you qualify depends on the specifics of your claim.
Cancer treatment side effects may include:
- Hair loss
- Flu-like symptoms
- Nerve and immune system issues
These and many other potential treatment-related issues may prevent you from working. Affleck & Gordon can help guide you through the process of applying for the benefits you deserve during this stressful time.
Here’s what you should know about qualifying for SSDI when you can’t work due to cancer treatment.
Table of Contents:
- Defining Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
- Does Your Cancer Qualify You for SSDI?
- Consulting a Lawyer for Social Security Disability Appeal
Defining Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a government benefits program for those who suffer total disability and are expected to be unable to work for at least 12 months, or whose disability is expected to result in their death.
You must be able to prove through medical evidence that you’re unable to work your current job or do any work in the current economy.
You become eligible for SSDI over time by working and earning work credits. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA):
“The number of work credits you need to qualify for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled. Generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years ending with the year you become disabled. However, younger workers may qualify with fewer credits.”
As opposed to Supplemental Security Income (SSI), SSDI is not income based. SSDI is an earned benefit that can help provide an important source of income for you and your family as you navigate your cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Does Your Cancer Qualify You for SSDI?
Whether you qualify for SSDI depends on a number of factors specific to your situation, including the type and stage of your cancer, as well as treatment and how these factors impact your ability to work.
Social Security awards SSDI benefits based on a strict set of medical conditions in their list of qualifying disabilities, called the “Blue Book.” There are listings for different types and stages of cancer, such as for pancreatic, breast, lung, ovarian, testicular, colon, kidney, or prostate cancers, or leukemia.
You must be able to provide medical evidence, such as test results, imaging, and doctors’ written opinions, to qualify for SSDI under the SSA’s definition of disability.
However, there are other ways to qualify.
Certain types of severe or terminal cancers may automatically qualify you for SSDI and expedite your claim under the compassionate allowances (CAL) program. Some of these include non-hodgkins and hodgkins lymphomas, pericardial mesothelioma, acute leukemia, liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, inoperable breast cancer, and other equally severe types and stages of cancer.
Some other factors that may qualify you for SSDI under the CAL program include:
- Treatment or surgery to remove your cancer fails.
- Your cancer is inoperable.
- Your cancer has spread beyond the regional lymph nodes (called “distant metastases”).
- When treatment side effects (temporary or permanent) are expected to keep you from working for at least a year.
Other Ways to Qualify for SSDI
If you don’t meet the SSA’s strict definition of disability or qualify for compassionate allowance (CAL), you may also qualify by proving you don’t have the mental or physical ability to work, based on your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC).
If you are able to medically prove your cancer or treatment has limited your functioning and prevents you from working, the SSA may consider this along with your age and education and work history.
Which method of qualifying makes sense for you depends on the specifics of your claim. Talk to your disability lawyer about what strategy would work best to prove your disability case.
Consulting a Lawyer for Social Security Disability Appeal
On average, more than half of all Social Security disability claims are initially denied. However, that doesn’t mean your case is lost. The next stage of your claim after a denial is to appeal the decision within 60 days.
The stages of appeal include:
Reconsideration: A new team of reviewers will consider your claim.
Request a Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ): A hearing is the stage of appeal where you’re most likely to win your claim. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will consider your claim.
Note that during a hearing, you may be asked to testify, as well as other expert witnesses such as vocational or medical experts. A lawyer can help you prepare and represent you during your hearing.
Review by the Appeals Council: The SSA’s Appeals Council can review the decision the judge made as a result of your hearing. If this level of appeal fails, you may file a lawsuit in federal district court as your final recourse.
The right lawyer for Social Security disability appeal can represent and advise you at each stage of your claim.
For Social Security cases, attorneys typically don’t collect an up-front fee, instead collecting payment from the past-due benefits you are awarded, with a maximum fee of 25% not to exceed $6000. If you don’t win your case, you won’t owe this fee.
Because of this, it’s recommended that you consult an attorney as early as possible during your claim, even if you haven’t yet been initially denied and need to appeal.
Receiving benefits can be a long and difficult process. The right disability attorney can be a lifeline.
If your SSDI claim has been denied, Affleck and Gordon can help. We’ve been helping disabled people in Georgia just like you for over 40 years. Once you have applied online for benefits, sign up for a free case evaluation here, and call us (404) 990-3945.