Compassionate Allowances speed SSDI applications for severely disabled

The Social Security Administration's program fast tracks claims of those with certain extremely serious diseases or medical conditions.

Social Security Disability Insurance is the federal disability insurance program most people do not realize they are paying into over the years through payroll deductions, along with the well known retirement program. People who apply for SSDI when they become disabled from working often have to wait months or years for their benefits to be approved. In response to criticism, the Social Security Administration created Compassionate Allowances, known as CAL, a procedure to speed up application processing for claimants with extremely debilitating medical conditions that obviously meet the SSDI definition of disability.

In fact, on the SSA website, the agency says that applications flagged for CAL fast tracking are likely to be processed "in a matter of weeks instead of months or years." For most claimants with CAL conditions, receiving monthly benefits sooner rather than later can make a huge difference at a time when they are very sick as well as financially challenged after having become unable to work.

The SSA has been transparent about how it determines which medical conditions are appropriate for CAL classification. For example, the agency has held a series of public hearings to gather input about conditions in these categories:

  • Rare diseases
  • Cancers
  • Traumatic brain injury, known as TBI, and stroke
  • Early-onset Alzheimer's disease and other dementias
  • Schizophrenia
  • Cardiovascular diseases and multiple organ transplants
  • Autoimmune diseases

In addition to hearings, the SSA consults with other government agencies, advocacy organizations and medical experts about what conditions should be added to the CAL list, which as of this December 2015 writing contains at least 225 medical diagnoses. Examples from the CAL list include:

  • Acute leukemia
  • Angelman syndrome or AS
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or CJD
  • Early-onset Alzheimer's disease
  • Gallbladder cancer
  • Heart transplant graft failure
  • Heart transplant wait list
  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
  • Inflammatory breast cancer or IBC
  • Lewy body dementia or LBD
  • Liver cancer
  • Malignant multiple sclerosis
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Peritoneal or pleural mesothelioma
  • Primary central nervous system or CNS lymphoma
  • Small cell lung cancer
  • Stiff person syndrome or SPS
  • Thyroid cancer

Many of the diseases on the list are unfamiliar to most people because the conditions are very rare, but so serious that they are obviously disabling according to the SSDI definition of disability. This definition of disability is unique and different from those used in workers' compensation programs or private disability insurance policies.

For SSDI purposes, a claimant is disabled from working if a serious mental or physical impairment or combination of impairments expected to last at least one year or result in death prevent him or her from engaging in substantial gainful activity. The legal and factual question of whether an SSDI applicant is disabled can be complex and involve detailed medical evidence, so it is smart for an applicant to consult with an SSDI attorney as early as possible for assistance in presenting the claim.

Legal counsel at Daisley Law Offices, P.C., with offices in Charlotte and Fayetteville, North Carolina, and Raleigh, South Carolina, represent SSDI claimants from application through later levels of review and appeal throughout both states.