Social Security Disability Benefits

This page was originally published May 9, 2020 and updated July 21, 2024.

Cancer is a devastating disease that can affect every aspect of a person’s life. Not only is it physically taxing, but the emotional and financial stress that comes with it can be overwhelming. One question that many cancer patients face is whether they will be able to receive Social Security Disability benefits if and when they are unable to work due to this disease. In this blog post, we will provide an overview of two types of benefits, how Social Security disability payments work for cancer patients, information on how to qualify, and how your earnings may affect your payments. We will also discuss a fast-track program available for those with cancer, as well as ways to get help applying for benefits, and who to contact for more information and assistance. Let’s get started! ❤️

Social Security Administration Programs

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is a government agency that provides social security benefits to U.S. citizens. The SSA administers a number of different programs, including Social Security Disability Insurance payments and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). In order to qualify for benefits, an individual must meet certain criteria based on age, income, and resources.

Qualifying for SSDI

To qualify for SSDI, you must have worked long enough and recently enough under Social Security to earn the required number of work credits. Work credits are based on your total yearly wages or self-employment income. You can earn up to four credits each year. The amount of wages or self-employment income needed for a credit changes from year to year. In 2022, you get one credit for each $1,510 of wages or self-employment earnings.

You typically need a certain number of credits to qualify for benefits. For example, you generally need 40 credits—10 years’ worth of work—to be eligible for SSDI. However, younger workers may qualify with fewer credits. Once you have earned enough credits, they stay on your record even if you stop working. Credits stay on your record for 10 years. This means that if you become disabled at age 29, but worked fulltime from age 25, you would have earned enough work credits for SSDI coverage. The following table shows how many work credits you need to qualify for SSDI based on your age (aka the work test rule):

AgeCredits Needed
Before Age 24You may qualify if you have 6 credits earned in the 3-year period right before your disability starts.
24-31You may qualify if you’ve worked at least have of the time from the age of 21 until your disability began. For example, if you were disabled at age 29 you would have needed to work at least 4 years to pass the work test rule. (Half of the years from 21-29.)
Over 3120 credits in the 10-year period immediately before your disability began.

Qualifying for SSI

In contrast, to qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you must have limited income and resources. Eligibility is not based on your work history.   To qualify for SSI in 2022, your countable assets must be worth less than $2,000 if you are an individual or $3,000 if you are married and living with your spouse. These limits don’t apply if you are blind or have another disability that began before age 22. If you own a house or land, it usually isn’t counted as an asset unless you plan to sell it in the near future and use the cash from the sale to pay for food and shelter. Your primary vehicle usually isn’t counted as an asset either unless its equity value is more than $4,500 for an individual or $9,000 for a married couple living together—in which case only the amount over these limits would be counted.   Social Security also doesn’t count certain other types of property such as life insurance policies, burial plots and most retirement plans as assets.

Remember, to qualify for SSDI benefits you need to have worked long enough and recently enough under Social Security to earn the required number of work credits which is generally 40 credits—10 years’ worth of work—but younger workers may qualify with fewer credits. You also need to have paid into Social Security through payroll taxes during your working years. To qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, you must have limited income and resources and it is not based on your work history although there are caps on what is considered countable assets. If you think you qualify based on the above criteria, please call or visit your nearest Social Security Office to get started.

Cancer & Social Security Benefits

Certain cancers may be qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits, but the process of applying and being approved can be lengthy and complex. In order to be eligible for benefits, you must first have worked enough years to earn enough credits. The number of credits you need depends on your age, but generally speaking, you need 40 credits, 20 of which must have been earned in the last ten years. (See the chart above for more information.)

Once you have met the credit requirements, you must also prove that your cancer has prevented you from working for at least a year, or is expected to prevent you from working for at least a year. This can be done with medical evidence from your treating physician detailing the severity of your condition and how it limits your ability to work. If you are approved for Social Security Disability benefits, you will receive a monthly payment based on your past earnings. For SSDI, your earnings prior to your cancer diagnosis will be used to calculate your benefit amount. In addition, if you have any “substantial” earnings while receiving disability benefits, this may affect the amount of your benefits.

SSA Compassionate Allowance

The Social Security Administration has a program for cancer patients who are applying for disability benefits called Compassionate Allowance. If you have been diagnosed with cancer and can provide medical evidence to support your claim, you may be able to receive a decision on your application within weeks. In addition, if you are receiving treatment for cancer and your condition is expected to improve, you may be eligible for a continuing disability review every six months, which can help you receive benefits for a longer period of time.

Applying for Social Security Disability Programs

If you think that you may qualify for disability, you can begin the application process online, over the phone, or in person at your local Social Security office. To apply online, the first step is to create an account on the SSA’s website. Once you have created an account, you will be able to complete the online application. The SSA will then review your application and make a determination on whether or not you qualify for benefits. If you would like to apply over the phone, you can call the SSA’s toll-free number at (800) 772-1213.

Getting Help from a Disability Attorney

Applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) can be a long and complicated process, and many initial claims are denied. In fact, according to the Social Security Administration, only about 30% of claims are approved at the initial stage. If your claim is denied, you have the right to appeal the decision. At this point, you may want to consider hiring an attorney to help you with your case. While having an attorney is not required, studies have shown that claimants who are represented by counsel are more likely to have their claims approved than those who choose to represent themselves.  

If you are considering applying for Social Security Disability benefits or have applied and been denied, you can get help from an attorney or advocate who can guide you through the process and ensure that your claim is properly presented. As a cancer patient, you have enough to worry about; getting the help you need to receive the benefits you deserve should not be one of them. An attorney can help gather evidence to support your claim and navigate the appeals process—all of which increase your chances of having your claim approved and getting the benefits you need and deserve. ❤️

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