Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits when Battling Cancer

written by Lisa Giorgetti, #facingtheissues

Living with cancer or caring for a child with cancer often depends on an ability to maintain stability in aspects of your daily life, such as your finances. Unfortunately, treatment regimens and the condition itself can drain you and keep you from working or earning a living.


Financial benefits from the Social Security Administration could be what you need to help fight financial struggles, so you can focus on you or your child’s health. The application for these disability benefits can sometimes be troublesome, but understanding the basic steps and requirements can help you to successfully file a cliam.

Disability Benefit Programs

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are the two Social Security Disability benefit programs for which someone battling cancer may qualify.


Workers with cancer who have paid Social Security taxes for a number of years should apply for SSDI. Just make sure you have a sufficient work history, as this will help decide your eligibility. The SSA determines how long you need to have worked before qualifying using work credits, which are earned based on your yearly wages. The minimum number of work credits the SSA requires is subject to change, so be sure to check the current amount before you apply.


SSI benefits are intended for those with low income who are disabled, so that they may afford basic needs. SSI—which is not funded through Social Security taxes—is based on financial limitations instead of past employment. Part of your income, as well as some of the resources you own, will be evaluated. Children under 18 years old with disabilities can often qualify for SSI benefits, though part of their parents’ income will be evaluated on their behalf, as part of a program called parental deeming.


If determined by the SSA that your cancer is quite severe, you could be eligible for the Compassionate Allowance initiative. This program is meant to provide funds in a timely manner as the disability benefits process can be lengthy.

Medical Eligibility

You will have to meet certain medical requirements listed for your condition in the SSA’s technical guidebook, the ‘Blue Book.’ The Blue Book, which is divided into sections for adults and children, contains specific criteria for all conditions the SSA considers disabling. In all cancer cases, a diagnosis will be helpful, but will not always be enough to meet the Blue Book requirements alone.

This is because cancers can range in severity. Your cancer must be severe enough to keep you from participating in ‘substantial gainful activity’ in order for you to be eligible for benefits.

Most cancers are evaluated under Malignant Neoplastic Diseases, which is found in Section 13.00 for adults and Section 113.00 for children.

In general, these listings require the following for qualification:

  • The condition persists despite treatment or is inoperable
  • The tumors have spread (distant metastasis)
  • Medical documentation of the type, origin, and extent of the cancer

The Application

Before you submit an application for disability benefits from the SSA, you will need to have a substantial amount of documentation and evidence that supports your claim.

This might include

  • Diagnosis (you will need more than this)
  • Records of treatment and therapies
  • Hospitalizations
  • Doctor’s notes
  • For children, statements from teachers or therapists who can attest to the severity of their case and how it affects their daily life.
  • Financial or Employment information for SSI or SSDI


When you have gathered all the necessary information, there are two ways to begin the disability application. If you are applying for yourself or for another adult, you may begin completing the forms online or, if you prefer, you may schedule an in person meeting with an SSA staff member to complete the process in person. Applications for children can’t be done online and have to be initiated during an in person interview.


The application process also includes an evaluation period by which the SSA makes its decision. While wait times do vary, you will likely not be instantaneously approved for benefits—though, you may only have to wait weeks, depending on the severity of your case.


If your application is denied by the SSA, don’t panic; there are still ways to receive Social Security Disability benefits. Many people end up receiving benefits only after submitting an appeal. The process is separate from the application and must be begun within 60 days of the denial.


If you’re stuck on any part of the application, or you just want to make sure you have completed everything thoroughly, you may want to hire a disability advocate or attorney to help you. These specialists are experts in the Social Security Disability application process and know exactly what information you’ll need and how to present it. They typically only require payment if you qualify for benefits and that payment is taken from your disability back payments.


Overall, the application process can, at times, seem bewildering. Hopefully, with this primer, you have a better of idea of what you’ll need to do and how to proceed from one step to another. Remember not to give up and that there are plenty of resources available if you need help securing these benefits.


Additional Resources


Lisa Giorgetti, Community Liaison, Social Security Disability Help

@DisabilityGuide | |