Sometimes it feels like I am throwing money at my boobs after being diagnosed with Breast Cancer. They cost an arm and a leg...and two nipples. It would be nice for them to start supporting themselves again.
Deanna Power, who works for Social Security Disability Help, reached out and wanted to share how your boobs might start supporting you.
The wonderful article below was written by Deanna to demystify the process of getting Social Security Disability Benefits when you have Breast Cancer.
Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits with Breast Cancer
If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, the last thing that should be on your mind is making ends meet financially. Fortunately, there could be resources available to you. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers aid to women with breast cancer who are no longer able to work.
What disability benefits are available to me?
Most people don’t know much about disability benefits, which is completely normal because disability benefits are confusing. The most daunting task can be determining what type of benefits you qualify for. To briefly summarize, there are two forms of disability benefits:
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is available to women who’ve had a career and have become unable to work due to breast cancer treatments or complications. To qualify for SSDI, you need to have earned enough “work credits.” Basically, if you’ve worked at least part-time every year, you will qualify for SSDI.
The other form of disability benefits is Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is only for the very needy. Regardless of how serious your breast cancer is, if you have a spouse who’s earning a living wage, you will not qualify for SSI benefits. Fortunately, there are no work requirements for SSI benefits. This means that if you never worked, or if you’ve taken the past few years off to raise a family, you could qualify for SSI benefits.
How do I medically qualify for disability benefits?
Even if you have worked all your life or have a severe financial need, you are not automatically approved for disability benefits if you’ve received a breast cancer diagnosis. The SSA uses a medical guide known as the Blue Book to evaluate every application that comes in. Here is how your breast cancer can medically qualify:
- Your cancer is “locally advanced,” which means it has spread to your chest wall or skin
- Your cancer has spread to your collar-bone nodes or has spread to 10 or more auxiliary nodes
- You cancer returned despite treatment
- You have been diagnosed with small-cell/oat-cell carcinoma
- Your breast cancer surgery caused lymphedema (build-up of arm tissue). If your lymphedema was so severe you required additional surgery, you will be considered medically disabled for at least 12 months.
- Your cancer has spread to another organ
- You have inflammatory breast cancer
Keep in mind that you do not need to meet every component to qualify! If you can prove that your breast cancer has advanced to just one of the above stages, you will medically qualify.
Is there any way to qualify without the Blue Book listing?
Typically means that if your breast cancer isn’t at least IIIb or higher, you will likely not meet the Blue Book listing. But there are still ways to qualify for benefits. The SSA understands that many women with less advanced stages of breast cancer are still unable to work. If you can show that your chemotherapy, radiation, or other treatments keep you from preforming any job that you are qualified for, you could qualify for disability benefits.
Example A: Kelly is a 32-year-old marketing manager who has been diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. She works primarily in the office, but she does work from home when possible. Because she has a college degree and is able to work off her feet most of the day, the SSA does not approve her application. The SSA claims that she can either take an easier job or work entirely from home in the comfort of her own bed.
Example B: Kathy is a 63-year-old cashier at her local grocery store. She’s worked retail jobs all of her life and never got the chance to go back to school. She was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. Because she is no longer able to stand up all day while receiving treatments, and because her education and age limits her to similar job, she was approved for disability benefits.
Overall, if you are older with less education, you will have a much higher chance of getting approved for disability benefits through a Medical Vocational Allowance.
Speak with your oncologist about filling out your RFC. He or she can help describe your upcoming treatments and how they’ll prevent you from working.
How do I apply for disability benefits?
If you are ready to apply for benefits, there are a few options available! The first is to apply entirely online on the SSA’s website. If you qualify for SSDI benefits, this is far and away the easiest option. You can even save your application for later if you do not finish in one sitting.
If you only qualify for SSI benefits, you will need to make an appointment with your local SSA office. There are SSA offices in every state.
How long does it take to be approved?
Unfortunately, it takes a very long time to hear back from the SSA after applying. If you are applying for most forms of breast cancer, you can expect to hear from the SSA in around five months. But some women whose breast cancer has spread or has returned despite treatment will be approved in as little as ten days. This is known as a “Compassionate Allowance.” When the SSA receives an application that is without-a-doubt disabling, you are approved automatically.
Key steps to take when applying:
#1. Figure out if you “technically” qualify for SSDI or SSI. There is no point wasting your time applying for benefits if you will be disqualified due to a minor technicality.
#2. List every single doctor you’ve spoken to and hospital where you’ve received treatment. The more medical evidence on your site, the better your odds of approval. You don’t actually have to send in any medical records, just list where you were treated. The SSA will do all of that work for you (although, it is possible to be approved faster if you send in your own medical records).
#3. Check in with the SSA! Shockingly enough, government-run programs are not always perfect. On occasion, an application will get lost in the shuffle, or be “pending” for far too long. Giving your local SSA office a quick call once per month can really improve your odds of getting approved quickly.
With carefully documented medical records, you will hopefully be approved quickly and will be able to focus on what’s really important: recovery.
Aniela here again. I just want to give a huge thank you to Deanna for writing this for us!
If you applied for these benefits, please comment below to let me know how you found the process.