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Leukemia and Qualifying for Disability Benefits

Appealing for benefits is best done under the guidance of an experienced disability lawyer.

Can I get disability benefits if I am suffering from the effects of Leukemia?

Author Attorney Greg Reed:

Leukemia is a relatively rare type of blood cancer with fewer than 200,000 cases occurring in the United States each year.

Leukemia Disability

The SSA recognizes Leukemia in its Blue Book under Section 13.06. To qualify for Social Security Disability benefits the requirements of the listing must be met or the inability to work must be proven.

There are several types of leukemia, some affecting children and others more common in adults.

Though the Social Security Administration recognizes leukemia as an impairment in its Blue Book, whether or not an individual will qualify for Social Security Disability benefits under the listing will depend on the type and severity of leukemia.

Leukemia is listed as an impairment in Social Security’s Blue Book, but Social Security does not consider every applicant with leukemia disabled.

In order to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, you must have one of two types of leukemia:

  •   Acute leukemia (lymphocytic or myeloid) or
  •   Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) in an accelerated phase (i.e. there is or will be an increase in myeloblasts, the leukemia is acting like acute leukemia, or the leukemia is getting worse even after treatment)

If approved, you are considered disabled 1) for 24 months from the initial diagnosis or most recent relapse, or 2) one year from the date of a stem cell transplant, whichever is later.

After a time period, Social Security will reconsider your case to see if you are still experiencing the same effects from leukemia or treatments and redetermine your functional limitations to see if you are still disabled. You will need to provide to Social Security:

  •    Evidence of the origin and extent of leukemia
  •   What treatments you receive and how often as well as the success of those treatments and any side effects
  •   Medical records
  •   Pathology reports
  •   Results of biopsies
  •    Bone marrow results for acute leukemia
  •   Chromosome analysis for chronic myeloid leukemia
  •   For CLL, lymphocytic laboratory results of 10,000/mm3 for at least three months.

Acute leukemia and chronic myeloid leukemia are eligible for benefits under Social Security’s Compassionate Allowances program, an accelerated process for diseases that are particularly severe.

Social Security recommends that claimants provide definitive medical evidence with their application. For example, for acute leukemia, results of a bone marrow exam and for chronic myeloid leukemia a complete blood count and a bone marrow exam.

Contact a Social Security disability attorney at 512-454-4000 for a free consultation and see if you can get disability benefits while suffering from Leukemia. If you have been denied disability don’t give up!


Blood is composed of three types of cells.

White blood cells fight infection, red blood cells carry oxygen, and platelets help the blood clod. Bone marrow produces millions of blood cells every day, most of which are red blood cells. When leukemia occurs, the body makes more white blood cells, crowding out the red blood cells and platelets the body needs to be healthy. The extra white blood cells don’t function or fight infection normally and may affect other organs of the body.

Leukemia is categorized according to the type of blood cell affected and how fast the disease progresses.

Acute leukemia progresses very quickly, while chronic leukemia develops very slowly. Lymphocytic or lymphoblastic leukemia involves white blood cells; in myelogenous or myeloid leukemia bone marrow forms red blood cells, platelets and other white blood cells.

There are four main types of leukemia:

  1.   Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL). Also called Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Begins in the white blood cells of bone marrow and can spread to the lymph nodes and other organs of the body, such as the liver and spleen. It is the most common type of cancer in children, but rare in adults.
  2.   Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). Begins in cells that turn into white blood cells, but can also start in other blood-forming cells. This type of leukemia is known by a variety of names including acute myelocytic leukemia, acute myelogenous leukemia, acute granulocytic leukemia, and acute non-lymphocytic leukemia. It is most common in older people.
  3.   Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). This type of leukemia is the most common form of leukemia in adults, accounting for one-third of leukemias. CLL progresses very slowly and symptoms may not appear for years; some people may never need treatment.
  4.   Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML). Also called chronic myelogenous leukemia, this type of leukemia accounts for 10% of cases and predominantly affects people age 65 and older. As a result of advanced treatments, many people with this type of leukemia achieve remission and live for many years.

Symptoms vary with the type of leukemia, but can include any of the following:

  •   Weakness and fatigue
  •   Bleeding or bruising easily
  •   Severe or repetitive infections
  •   Pain in joints
  •   Fever
  •   Night sweats
  •   Headaches
  •   Recurrent nosebleeds
  •   Unexplained weight loss
  •   Swollen lymph nodes
  •   Seizures
  •   Vomiting
  •   Shortness of breath
  •   Tiny red spots on your skin called petechiae

There is no known cause of leukemia, but researchers believe that mutations in a blood cell’s DNA can result in abnormal functions, causing a cell to grow and divide more rapidly and continue to live when normally the cell would die.

Though leukemia cannot be prevented, there are certain risk factors which may contribute to the disease including smoking, exposure to chemicals such as benzene, previous radiation or chemotherapy treatments, and a family history of leukemia. Still, many people with these risk factors do not develop leukemia and some individuals who have none of these risk factors develop leukemia.

To diagnose leukemia, a doctor will conduct a series of tests:

  •   Blood tests to look at the number of blood cells, types of blood cells and the existence of unusual blood cells.
  •   Bone marrow biopsy to determine the type and severity of leukemia.
  •   Spinal tap to find out if the leukemia has spread.
  •   Imaging tests such as CT, MRI, and PET which can spot signs of leukemia.

Treatment is based on the type of leukemia as well as an individual’s age, general health, and whether the leukemia has spread.

Though chemotherapy is the major treatment employed, other advanced therapies are increasingly being used:

  •   Biological therapy which helps the immune system identify and attack leukemia cells
  •   Targeted therapy which uses drugs to attack specific vulnerabilities in cancer cells
  •   Radiation therapy to damage leukemia cells and stop growth
  •   Stem cell transplants to replace diseased bone marrow with healthy bone marrow.

In order to qualify for Social Security Disability, you will need to satisfy a few specific requirements in two categories as determined by the Social Security Administration.

The first category is the Work Requirements which has two tests.

  1.   The Duration of Work test.   Whether you have worked long enough to be covered under SSDI.
  2.   The Current Work Test.   Whether you worked recently enough for the work to actually count toward coverage.

The second category is the Medical Eligibility Requirement.

  1.   Are you working?   Your disability must be “total”.
  2.   Is your medical condition severe?    Your disability must be “severe” enough to interfere with your ability to perform basic work-related activities, such as walking, sitting, and remembering.
  3.   Is your medical condition on the List of Impairments?   The SSA has a “List of Impairments” that automatically qualify as “severe” disabilities. If your disease is not listed this does not mean you cannot get disability, it means you must prove you cannot maintain employment due to your limitations.
  4.   Can you do the work you did before?   SSDI rules look at whether your medical condition prevents you from doing the work you did prior to developing the condition.
  5.   Can you do any other type of work?   If you cannot do your prior work, an evaluation is made as to whether you can perform any other kind of work.

More details can be found on our Qualifying for Disability page.

If you have leukemia and are unable to work, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.

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Disability benefits are an important source of income for those who are unable to work. If you are not able to work due to Leukemia, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability or Long Term Disability benefits. If you have applied for benefits and been denied, contact the attorneys at Bemis, Roach and Reed for a free consultation. Call 512-454-4000 and get help NOW.

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Author: Attorney Greg Reed has been practicing law for 29 years. He is Superlawyers rated by Thomson Reuters and is Top AV Preeminent® and Client Champion Gold rated by Martindale Hubbell. Through his extensive litigation Mr. Reed obtained board certification from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Greg is admitted to practice in the United States District Court - all Texas Districts and the United States Court of Appeals-Fifth Circuit. Mr. Reed is a member of the Travis County Bar Association, Texas Trial Lawyers Association, past Director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association, and an Associate member of the American Board of Trial Advocates. Mr. Reed and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.

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