It used to be that some people with serious disabilities would die before the Social Security Administration finally got around to reviewing their applications for disability benefits. Today, applicants with one of 225 of the severest medical conditions can win approval within 15 days.
The government's "compassionate allowances" program provides fast-track review of applicants who can prove that they have one of the medical conditions on the list, which includes various cancers, heart disease, and immune system and neurological disorders. (For the list, go to www.ssa.gov/compassionateallowances.)
Nearly 95% of compassionate allowances applications are approved. The other 5% are placed on an expedited appeals process. The average monthly benefit was $1,146 in December 2013. As with all applications for Social Security disability benefits, compassionate allowances applicants must be unable to work.
The program was a godsend for Robert C., 55, a Milwaukee, Wis., businessman who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January 2013. Robert, who did not want his last name used, applied in March 2013 and started receiving $2,400 a month in April—the full retirement benefit he would have received at age 66. "It's helped us retain our home and helped us get back on our feet," he says.
The program began in 2008 to help the most severely ill cut through the huge backlog of applications for disability benefits. Before then, Social Security employees had no way to distinguish between the most urgent applications from tens of thousands of other disability claims received each year. With a lengthy backlog and a time-consuming appeals process, many qualified applicants died before getting payments.
Diseases and conditions are added to the list each year. There is no backlog for compassionate allowances applications, even though the application rolls grow as new diseases are approved. About 200,000 people have received benefits through the program since it started.
Benefit Decisions Within Days Instead of Years
The program is one of Social Security's "best kept secrets," says Cheryl Bates-Harris, senior disability advocate for the National Disability Rights Organization. "In the past, disability decisions were made by Social Security personnel who weren't medical professionals, and they were unaware of unusual diseases and their outcomes. The compassionate allowances program makes it easier for people to get benefits without having to wait two, three or five years," she says.
Here's how it works: Once an individual claims a compassionate allowances condition during the initial application, special software alerts the Social Security Administration that the case needs to be fast-tracked. Applicants must provide medical evidence, including medical records and recent test results.
After an applicant provides authorization, Social Security adjudicators will ask the applicant's doctors for information if all medical records aren't supplied. When the condition is confirmed, disability payments start flowing. You don't need a lawyer or advocate to help as long as you have a diagnosis that falls within the category. "There are diagnoses, like pancreatic cancer, where the outcome is dire. If you can prove you have the disease from your medical record, we will fast-forward your application," says Art Spencer, who recently retired as Social Security's associate commissioner for the office of disability programs.
For the quickest results, Bates-Harris suggests applying immediately after a diagnosis. Also, make sure every one of your doctors sends medical records quickly.
If your disability is not on the list, expect a lengthy wait. The average processing time for an initial disability claim under the normal procedures is 86 days, plus more than 450 additional days for a rejected applicant to complete the appeals process.
You can apply at www.ssa.gov/dibplan/dapply.htm, by phone at 800-772-1213 or at your local Social Security office. You'll need information about your health care providers and medications, laboratory results, and any medical records you have.
Can I Stop Social Security and Restart it Later?
This articles explains what is required to stop and restart Social Security and details how to do it.
By Jacob Wolinsky Published
Six Estate Planning Tips for Younger Generations
Millennials and Gen Zers are taking their estate planning seriously. These tips can help make the process seem less daunting.
By David Weinstock, CFP®, AEP®, CPA Published
Is a Medicare Advantage Plan Right for You?
Medicare Advantage plans can provide additional benefits beneficiaries can't get through original Medicare for no or a low monthly premium. But there are downsides to this insurance too.
By Jackie Stewart Published
What You Must Know About the Different Parts of Medicare
Medicare Medicare can be complicated but we've got you covered. Here is a quick guide to the different benefits provided through each part.
By Jackie Stewart Last updated
Retirees, It's Not Too Late to Buy Life Insurance
life insurance Improvements in underwriting have made it easier to qualify for life insurance, which can be a useful estate-planning tool.
By David Rodeck Published
Best Banks for Retirees
banking Kiplinger's 2023 list of the best banks for retirees.
By Lisa Gerstner Published
As the Market Falls, New Retirees Need a Plan
retirement If you’re in the early stages of your retirement, you’re likely in a rough spot watching your portfolio shrink. We have some strategies to make the best of things.
By David Rodeck Published
Retirees: Your Next Companion May Be a Robot
happy retirement Robots may help fill the gap left by a shortage of humans to help older adults live independently.
By Alina Tugend Published
Using Your 401(k) to Delay Getting Social Security and Increase Payments
retirement Your 401(k) can be a bridge from retirement to higher monthly income.
By Elaine Silvestrini Published
How Do I Stop Robocalls From Scamming Me?
retirement The scammers have automated their efforts to separate you from your money. We have ways to make it stop.
By Elaine Silvestrini Published