How to Get Disability Benefits for Leukemia

How to Get Disability Benefits for Leukemia

Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the body’s tissues that make blood, such as bone marrow. It makes it difficult for the body to fight infection. Many types of this particular cancer exist and they differ greatly in terms how fast they grow. Some of them grow very slowly. Others grow very fast, meaning that they can turn fatal quickly without treatment. Symptoms of this type of cancer may include:

  • Fatigue.
  • Fever.
  • Weakness.
  • Weight loss.
  • Getting infections more often than expected.
  • Bone pain.
  • Easy bleeding or getting bruises often.

Treatment can consist of chemotherapy, radiation, and stem cell transplants.

If you are unable to work due to leukemia, the Social Security Administration may award you benefits faster. That’s because this type of cancer appears in the SSA blue book, which means it qualifies for SSD benefits. However, getting payments faster all depends on what type of leukemia you have. We’ll explain which leukemia types can get you benefits in 30 days or less and what proof you’ll need to submit below.

Which Types of Leukemia May Qualify You for Disability Benefits?

  1. Acute lymphocytic (lymphoblastic) leukemia (ALL) affects the body’s lymphoid cells and spreads rapidly. This type of leukemia automatically qualifies you for SSD benefits until at least 24 months from your diagnosis or relapse date. Or, at least 12 months from your bone marrow or stem cell transplantation date, whichever is later. Thereafter, the agency evaluates any residual impairment(s) under the criteria for the affected body system.
  2. Acute myeloid (myelogenous) leukemia (AML) affects the myeloid cells including white and red blood cells and platelet making cells. This leukemia type also grows very fast and automatically qualifies you for benefits with the same timeline as ALL.
  3. Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) is slow growing at first and affects the myeloid cells. This type of leukemia qualifies you for SSD benefits if it enters a faster growing phase or worsens after you complete initial treatments. It counts as a disability until at least 24 months from your diagnosis or relapse date or at least 12 months from your bone marrow or stem cell transplantation date, whichever is later.

In most cases, you can receive SSD payments for two years after your leukemia diagnosis or latest relapse date. Alternatively, the SSA will say you are disabled for at least one year from the date of a stem cell transplant. If your leukemia returns after treatment, then you could qualify for benefits again.

There is a fourth type of this cancer called chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). It is a slow growing cancer that usually affects individuals 56 and older. This type of leukemia doesn’t always qualify for benefits unless your doctor can provide evidence showing you are unable to work due to your disease.

What Medical Proof Do You Need to Submit to Receive Benefits for Leukemia?

According to the SSA, the initial diagnosis of acute leukemia, including ALL and AML, is based upon definitive bone marrow examination. Additional criteria is based on:

  • Chromosomal analysis,
  • Cytochemical and surface marker studies on any abnormal cells, OR
  • Other methods consistent with the prevailing state of medical knowledge and clinical practice.

If a doctor treats your leukemia but it comes back, the SSA will look for medical evidence in one of the following ways:

  • Peripheral blood.
  • Bone marrow.
  • Cerebrospinal fluid examination.
  • Testicular biopsy.

IMPORTANT: If you apply for benefits with a leukemia recurrence, be sure to include your initial AND follow-up pathology reports.

For the CML type of leukemia, diagnosis is based on:

  • Documented granulo-cytosis, including immature forms such as differentiated or undifferentiated myelocytes and myeloblasts.
  • A chromosomal analysis that shows the Philadelphia chromosome.
  • By other methods consistent with the prevailing state of medical knowledge and clinical practice.

For a person to be considered in the accelerated phase of CML (and therefore eligible for benefits), the requirement is met in 13.06B if lab findings show the proportion of blast (immature) cells in the peripheral blood or bone marrow is 10% or greater. The SSA looks for evidence of a chronic lymphocytosis of at least 10,000/mm3 for 3 months or longer.

IMPORTANT: In cases of chronic leukemia, an elevated white cell count, in itself, is not a factor in determining the severity of your impairment.

A Faster Claim Approval Option Is Possible

Social Security has a faster benefits process for diseases that are particularly severe. Acute leukemia and CML in its accelerated (also called “blast”) phase are the two types of leukemia that appear in the Compassionate Allowance program. When you show you have a disease on the CAL, it speeds up your application. In fact, your CAL list condition will usually qualify for benefits in 30 days or less. For faster benefits, include medical evidence along with your application.

With acute leukemia, this evidence is usually a bone marrow exam to show a definitive diagnosis. For CML in the accelerated phase, medical evidence is a complete blood count and bone marrow exam. Your doctor may also recommend you include chromosome studies or molecular analysis results with your application paperwork.

You May Qualify for Legal Assistance

Not sure which medical records can help speed up your claim review? A lawyer can give you free claim help that applies to your situation over the phone. You’ll pay nothing now for help filing your claim under the CAL list. Having a lawyer file your application makes you almost 3x more likely to get benefits right away.

Social Security attorneys won’t take on your case unless they believe you qualify for SSD benefits. In addition, that means you owe $0 for legal assistance unless the SSA awards you a large cash payment. If you win, then you’ll only pay one small fee. 

Want free expert claim advice without leaving your home? Click the button below to sign up for a free phone call during regular weekday business hours:

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Laura Schaefer is the author of The Teashop Girls, The Secret Ingredient, and Littler Women: A Modern Retelling. She is also an active co-author or ghostwriter of several nonfiction books on personal and business development. Laura currently lives in Windermere, Florida with her husband and daughter and works with clients all over the world. Visit her online at and