Life-Threatening Illnesses and Social Security Disability Benefits

Cancer or other life-threatening illnesses are devastating for those diagnosed, and their families. In addition to the enormous expenses for chemotherapy, surgeries, medication, and other aggressive treatments, many patients are not able to work and maintain a steady household income. This can cause them and their families to be placed in a very difficult financial situation.

Fortunately, those who have been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and their families may be able to receive assistance in the form of financial benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). There are two forms of benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Forms of Disability Benefits Available

SSI is for those who are disabled and are economically disadvantaged. SSI is an income supplement that is for workers who are disabled and living in poverty to help pay for basic expenses. There are income levels that an applicant must be below to receive these benefits. You cannot be earning more than $733 per month to qualify for SSI benefits.

The second program, SSDI, is a benefit for adults who are disabled (or ill) and have worked for years and paid Social Security taxes. SSDI is funded by taxes, so only adults with a work history will be eligible. Your family members can qualify to receive benefits through this program. This is known as an auxiliary benefits.

Benefits for Family Members

Auxiliary benefits are sometimes available for family members of people who are diagnosed with cancer and are approved for SSDI benefits. These types of benefits are only available for adults on SSDI. Children and spouses are the two primary groups of people who can receive auxiliary benefits, although grandchildren may be eligible as well.

Dependent children of workers diagnosed with cancer are also able to receive SSDI benefits provided that they fall into one of the following categories:

  • They are under age 18 and enrolled in school full-time
  • They are still in high school and under age 19, or
  • They are disabled at any age, provided that they were disabled before the age of 22.

An important thing to keep in mind is that if your child is married at any age, he or she will no longer be eligible for auxiliary benefits. If approved, these children can receive up to 50% of their eligible parent’s benefits. Grandchildren and stepchildren will also be able to collect these benefits, provided that their parents are deceased or disabled themselves or the children are legally adopted.

Finally, spouses can qualify for auxiliary benefits if they are one of the following:

  • Over the age of 62
  • Over the age of 50 and disabled themselves
  • Any age while caring for a child under the age of 16.

Medically Qualifying for Benefits

The SSA uses a medical guide known as the Blue Book to evaluate applicants for disability benefits. Each disability will be found in a different location. HIV is found in Section 12—Immune System Disorders. Cancer is listed in Section 13 of the Blue Book. Congenital heart disease is in Section 4—Cardiovascular System.

Some diseases will be listed as a “Compassionate Allowance,” which means that you can expect to be approved in just a matter of weeks. Examples of Compassionate Allowances include ALS, Adult Onset Huntington Disease, aggressive forms of cancer, or being on the waitlist for a heart transplant. The SSA has a full list of Compassionate Allowance conditions listed online.

Be sure to speak with your doctors about your illness and its Blue Book listing to determine whether or not you might qualify medically.

Medically Qualifying Without the Blue Book

If you have a life-threatening diagnosis, you may still qualify for benefits even if you do not meet a Blue Book listing. You can do this via a Residual Functional Capacity assessment (RFC). Its purpose is to evaluate how much work you can actually preform, if any. The form will go over different physical activities, such as your ability to lift weight or ability to stand for long periods of time. You can download an RFC for your oncologist or doctor to fill out online, here.

Other things that the form will cover are the treatments you are receiving as well as how the residual effects from these can affect work ability. It is well known that chemotherapy patients face tremendous side effects from treatment, which would greatly hinder the ability to work. People with heart problems are unlikely to be able to sit or stand for long periods of time.

After you submit your RFC, a claims evaluator will write up a form with their decision and the reasons behind it. If the decision is yes, then your eligible family members will also be able to collect auxiliary benefits.

Starting Your Disability Application

Claimants can call the Social Security Office at 1-800-772-1213. It is available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Two other ways to apply are online here, or to make an appointment with your local Social Security office. With any luck, your application will be approved quickly and you can focus on what’s important: recovery.

Deanna Power is the Community Outreach Manager for Social Security Disability Help.  She knows that applying for Social Security disability benefits can be confusing, so she wants to help people at all stages of the process.