A reader wrote in with this question: “Can I get disability benefits for thyroid cancer?” You might think anyone with cancer is automatically eligible for disability benefits. That’s because the average chemotherapy treatment plan takes 3-6 months. And many cancer patients also need radiation, surgery, or other adjuvant treatments. Altogether, the time between your diagnosis and completing cancer treatment could take up to a year (or potentially longer).
But like most legal issues, the answer isn’t that simple. Unfortunately, not every cancer diagnosis results in a disability determination. And even when they do, applications for benefits can sometimes take a long time to process. This is because the Social Security Administration (SSA) typically evaluates each case on factors that go beyond your illness alone.
Why Would any Cancer Not Qualify for Disability?
The SSA requires all disability applicants to prove they cannot work for at least 12 months in a row. However, some people can successfully complete treatment and be declared cancer-free in less than one year. Simply put, every person’s case is different because each cancer diagnosis is unique.
Let’s start with what cancer is: A disease that causes some cells to grow and multiply uncontrollably. Cancer can affect any body part, and everyone is vulnerable to it, regardless of their gender, age, or fitness level.
Doctors can either diagnose cancer at an early stage or when it’s so advanced that no effective treatment exists. While we cannot technically “cure” cancer, some treatments can essentially erase all traces of it from your body. Today, the cancers with the highest survival rates include:
- Hodgkin lymphoma
The five deadliest cancers include:
You’ll notice that some cancers appear on both the “most treatable” and “deadliest” lists. This indicates how unique each cancer case can be and how myriad factors may affect a person’s diagnosis. Your cancer survival rate depends on things like how early your doctor detects it and which treatment plan you follow.
What If I Have Thyroid Cancer?
If you have thyroid cancer and cannot work for at least one year, you may qualify for monthly disability payments. These payments can come from two different federal assistance programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). There are 4 specific types of thyroid cancer:
That last type, anaplastic thyroid cancer, appears on the SSA’s Compassionate Allowances list. Also known as the CAL list, this initiative fast-tracks disability benefits for people with certain diseases and illnesses.
What Medical Proof Do I Need for a Thyroid Cancer Disability Claim?
Generally, the SSA wants to see the following when reviewing your application for benefits:
- Imaging scan showing you have thyroid nodules (i.e., ultrasound or CT scan)
- Biopsy that confirms your cancer diagnosis
- Documents showing the date your doctor diagnosed you
- Any medical records documenting your treatment(s)
In addition, successful disability applicants with thyroid cancer will display most of these physical symptoms:
- Growths around your thyroid gland that may make swallowing difficult
- A persistent cough
- Throat and/or neck pain that never really goes away
- Voice changes or hoarseness
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Difficulty breathing
If your thyroid cancer already metastasized (i.e., spread to other parts of your body), you may have these symptoms:
- Muscle weakness
- Bone pain
- Neurological issues
How The Compassionate Allowances (CAL) Initiative Works
In 2008, the SSA launched their CAL initiative to expedite disability reviews for people with the most serious health issues. The SSA’s CAL list includes rare, serious, and/or fatal conditions that automatically meet the agency’s medical standards for disability benefits. That way, seriously ill people spend significantly less time waiting before benefits can begin. The SSA uses specific CAL list guidelines for anaplastic thyroid cancer patients applying for disability.
Why is the Compassionate Allowances Program Important?
The SSA adds new conditions to the Compassionate Allowances (CAL) program every year in an effort to streamline processes and made award decisions quicker than in the past.
This is important, because when you have thyroid cancer or another serious disease, time is of the essence. Statistics show approximately 95% of claimants with a CAL condition waited 10-14 days for claim approval.
This doesn’t mean, however, that you are guaranteed benefits even if your disease is on the Compassionate Allowances list. The SSA can deny claims ca for a variety of reasons, including incomplete paperwork or insufficient work history.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Help Me File if I Have Thyroid Cancer?
Finding out you have thyroid cancer is a life-changing event that can be both scary and confusing. It can seem nearly impossible to navigate both the SSA’s confusing rules and your treatment if you’re depressed or exhausted. What’s more, your thyroid cancer might not qualify as a CAL list condition that can fast-track your disability claim.
Hiring an attorney fluent in Social Security benefits can nearly triple your chances of benefit approval. You may also potentially shorten your wait to receive your first SSD payment. The peace of mind you’ll get from working with an expert, however, can make the process less stressful.
Ready to discuss your claim with a nearby advocate at no cost to you? Click the button below to see if you may qualify for a free, no-obligation legal consultation now:
Lisa Allen is a writer and editor who lives in suburban Kansas City. She holds MFAs in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry, both from the Solstice Low-Residency Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. Prior to becoming a writer, Lisa worked as a paralegal, where she specialized in real estate in and around Chicago.