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  • Christopher Le

Are my Social Security Disability benefits expedited if I have terminal cancer?

There is a mandatory 5 month waiting period from the date SSA finds you disabled until the time you can begin receiving your social security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits. For example, lets say you receive an approval letter from SSA on 3/1/2021. And in that letter, SSA says that they have found you disabled as of 1/1/2021, because of the 5 month waiting period, you will actually have to wait 5 months from 1/1/2021 to begin receiving your SSDI benefits. Sometimes the wait can even be longer, mostly because of the backlog of disability claims the Social Security Administration (SSA) has to review.

Unfortunately, even if your cancer worsens after you apply for SSDI, you will still need to wait the 5 months from the date of your disability for benefits to kick in. This doesnt mean 5 months from the date you submitted your application, but rather 5 months from the date of your disability onset. For example, if you applied for SSDI on 6/1/2021 and on the application you alleged that your disability onset was 1/1/2021, the 5 month waiting period starts from 1/1/2021 and not 6/1/2021.

Although the 5 month waiting period cannot be waived for the majority of terminally ill conditions, you may be able to speed up your receipt of benefits if cancer worsens if you can show that your condition:

  • qualifies for review under the Compassionate Allowances (CAL) program


  • qualifies you for a “presumptive eligibility” determination.

Its important to keep in mind that once an application is filed, that application can 'just sit' at the SSA office. There are thousands of claims that are being filed every week so its possible that your claim is put on the back burner at SSA. This can mean a significant delay in receiving your benefits. Its important to keep SSA informed of changes in your medical condition by providing updated medical information so that you can get your application reviewed faster and can benefits approved more quickly.

SSA’s CAL program is designed to quickly approve claims as soon as possible. CAL conditions are often terminal illnesses or other severely disabling diseases that clearly meet the SSA’s disability requirements. These cases are essentially expedited.

Although CAL designation does not waive the 5 month waiting period, it can get you a decision much much quicker. This helps to not delay benefits starting at the beginning of your 6th month of disability. Also, sometimes SSA will begin paying benefits under what's called “presumptive eligibility” at the beginning of the sixth month. This means that even if SSA doesn't have all the medical records necessary to formally find you disabled, the diagnosis itself may be enough for you to receive "presumptive eligibility" in the mean time. Worsening of cancer can be a good reason SSA chooses to make a presumptive eligibility decision in your case.

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