If you have been diagnosed with cancer, you may find it challenging to work and earn a living due to your cancer’s complications or treatment side effects. If you find yourself struggling to make ends meet, there could be resources available for you and your family members. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers monthly benefits to people with illnesses in need.
Medically Qualifying for Disability Benefits With Cancer
The SSA uses its own medical guide known as the Blue Book to evaluate every person who applies for disability benefits and determine if his or her illness is severe enough to qualify for disability benefits. Cancers are found under Section 13.00 of the Blue Book. Qualifying will vary depending on what form of cancer you’ve been diagnosed with.
For example, lung cancer will only qualify if it has spread to other organs, is inoperable, has returned despite treatment, or is small-cell lung cancer, which is aggressive and hard to treat. Esophageal cancer, on the other hand, will automatically qualify with simply a diagnosis. While some cancers will qualify with a diagnosis, most forms of cancer need to be Stage III or more advanced to medically qualify. The entire Blue Book is available online, so you should review it with your oncologist to determine if you’re eligible for disability benefits.
It’s also possible to qualify without meeting a Blue Book listing if you’ll be out of work for at least 12 months due to your cancer’s complications or treatments. This type of approval is called a “Medical Vocational Allowance.” If you know your treatments will last at least one year, you should absolutely send in an application for disability benefits without meeting a listing. A Medical Vocational Allowance relies heavily on results from a Residual-Functional Capacity (RFC) evaluation. This SSA-standard form discusses how much physical work you’re able to do, from sitting, to walking, to lifting weight. You can download an RFC for your physician to fill out on your behalf online.
Spousal Benefits and LGBT Couples
After the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell V. Hodges, the SSA began offering spousal benefits to all married LGBT couples. Not every spouse is eligible, but if your partner meets one of the following criteria, he or she will qualify for up to 50% of your Social Security disability benefits in addition to your own monthly payment:
- Your spouse is over age 62
- Your spouse is over age 50 and is also disabled
- Your spouse is caring for your child (your birth child, adopted child, or stepchild) under age 16.
So long as at least one of the above conditions is met, your spouse should not have any difficulty getting approved for additional auxiliary benefits from the SSA, so long as you’ve been married for at least one year.
Children and Auxiliary Benefits
If you and your partner have a child, he or she could qualify for disability benefits under your account as well, so long as your child is under age 18 and unmarried. Children that could qualify include:
- Your biological child
- Any adopted children*
- Your stepchildren*
*Adopted and stepchildren are a bit more challenging to determine eligibility with same-sex couples. Here’s a run-down on whether or not your child could be eligible:
If you and your partner are married and you legally adopted your child under your name either before or after the marriage and you’re the one receiving disability benefits, your child will qualify for auxiliary benefits. Your child can also receive benefits under either parent’s account if a second adoption was performed after marriage or in a legal non-marital relationship (NMLR).
If the disability recipient is not the adoptive parent of a child, it’s possible the child will not be entitled to any auxiliary benefits. Her eligibility will depend on a number of factors:
- The SSA requires evidence of the legal adoption.
- You must have started a legal relationship (marriage or a NMLR) at least one year prior to applying for the stepchild’s benefits
- Your stepchild must be receiving at least “one-half support” from the disability recipient. What counts as support? Food, shelter, clothing, and medical expenses are all acceptable. Basically, if you provide for at least half of your stepchild’s needs and you’re on disability benefits, your child will qualify for auxiliary benefits under your account.
Children will also receive up to 50% of your disability benefits. Household maximums are capped at 180% of your monthly benefit though, so if you earn $1,000 per month from disability benefits and have three children under age 18, you still could not receive more than $1,800 per month.
Non-Married Couples and Disability Benefits
Unfortunately, those who have a NMLR will not be eligible for monthly auxiliary benefits from someone with cancer, but your partner could be eligible for survivors’ benefits if you were to pass away.
Survivors’ benefits are eligible to spouses over age 60, spouses age 50 with a disability, or spouses caring for a minor child. The SSA will also pay a lump-sum death benefit to a surviving spouse of any age. The SSA recognizes some forms of non-marital legal relationships as eligible for survivors’ benefits, including:
- Civil unions
- Domestic partnerships
- Designated beneficiaries
- Reciprocal beneficiaries
Eligibility under a NMLR will vary completely based on your state of residence. For example, LGBT couples with a civil union or a domestic partnership will not be eligible for survivors’ benefits in Arizona, but both forms of relationships have inheritance rights in California. The SSA has a chart listing what types of unions are eligible for benefits by state. The SSA strongly recommends requesting legal advice if you cannot find your state of residence on its chart, or if you’re unsure of your eligibility.
Starting Your Social Security Application
The vast majority of applicants will qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI. These benefits are earned through working and paying Social Security taxes. So long as you’ve earned around $5,000 in taxable income per year of adulthood, you will qualify for SSDI.
If you haven’t worked before, or haven’t worked in the past five years, you will not qualify for SSDI. You might be eligible for Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, but only if you have severe financial need. A spouse earning a living wage will disqualify your household from receiving SSI benefits. Additionally, family members of SSI recipients are not eligible for any auxiliary benefits.
Most applicants can apply entirely online, but if you prefer to speak with someone in person, you can schedule an appointment with your closest Social Security office. You can do so by calling the SSA toll-free at 1-800-772-1213. The denial rate for initial disability applications is nearly 70%, but keep in mind that this is for all applicants, not people applying with cancer. Those with cancer have a significantly higher chance of approval.
Most applicants will hear back from the SSA in around 5 months, but people with advanced or aggressive cancer could be approved in as little as 10 days.
(This article was provided by Disability Benefits Help, an independent organization dedicated to helping people receive the disability benefits they need, or staying on disability after approval. If you have any questions on whether or not your cancer diagnosis might qualify for Social Security benefits, or your family’s eligibility, you can reach our team at firstname.lastname@example.org )