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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
Updated: 3/18/2024

Maria had struggled with fighting leukemia for over a year. Fatigue, frequent infections, and the draining effects of treatments had taken an enormous toll on her both physically and mentally. She knew she would not be able to hold on to her job much longer, and the fear of financial insecurity, mounting medical bills and uncertainty about the future was overwhelming at times. Applying for disability benefits could be a lifeline, the chance to gain the financial support she needed so badly and alleviate the constant stress she experienced.

Leukemia Disability

The SSA recognizes Leukemia in its Blue Book under Section 13.06.If you are suffering from the effects of leukemia and have been denied disability don’t give up, almost 70% are denied initially! Just call 512-454-4000 for a free, no obligation consultation to learn what your options are.

Maria’s situation is not uncommon.

Even though leukemia is a relatively rare type of blood cancer, it is still the 10th most common type of cancer in the United States. There are several types of leukemia, affecting both children and adults. Many of the symptoms of leukemia along with side effects from treatment can rapidly become disabling and prevent an individual from working.

Leukemia is a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissue.

When leukemia occurs, bone marrow produces an excess amount of abnormal white blood cells, instead of the cells growing and dividing in an orderly way. White blood cells fight infection, but these extra white blood cells don’t function normally and may affect other organs of the body.

Though symptoms vary with the type of leukemia, the most common include the following:

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

Any of the symptoms of leukemia – frequent infections, fatigue and weakness, seizures – can impact an individual’s daily activities and work life; treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can have disabling side effects.

Can I qualify for Social Security Disability Income if I have leukemia?

If you have leukemia and are unable to work, you may be eligible for disability benefits, but to qualify you will first need to satisfy both the financial and medical requirements set forth by the Social Security Administration.

Financial Requirements:

In order to be eligible for Social Security disability benefits, you must satisfy some basic financial requirements.

You must: 1) have a disability that has lasted or is expected to last 12 months; and 2) you must have worked in a job where you paid Social Security taxes long enough and recently enough; and 3) you must not earn more than Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), which is $1,550 per month in 2024 for nonblind applicants and $2,590 per month for blind applicants. If you earn more than the SGA amount, your claim will be denied, and if you have not worked enough recently to earn the necessary amount of work credits, Social Security will deny your claim.

Explanation of work credits –>

Medical Requirements:

Though the Social Security Administration recognizes leukemia as an impairment under Section 13.06 of its Blue Book (a manual which lists impairments Social Security considers disabling and may automatically qualify for benefits) whether or not an individual will qualify for Social Security Disability benefits under that listing will depend on the type and severity of leukemia.

In order to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits under Section 13.06, you must have one of two types of leukemia:

  •    Acute leukemia (ALL or AML) 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:

  •    Diagnosis and 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.

If all your medical evidence and records meet the listing criteria, you may be eligible for Social Security’s Compassionate Allowances Program.

Under this program, Social Security flags cases that are particularly severe and accelerates the claim process. Both acute leukemia and chronic myeloid leukemia are eligible; however, 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.

If your medical evidence doesn’t match the listing requirements exactly, you may qualify by “equaling” the listing, which means your condition is as severe as someone else’s leukemia that does meet the listing criteria.

For example, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is not listed in the Blue Book, but you can experience the same disabling effects of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). Ask your doctor – preferably your oncologist – to complete a medical source statement explaining why your leukemia is functionally the same.

Discuss your condition with your doctors and make sure they describe your limitations and symptoms in their notes in detail.

Social Security will compare your doctor’s notes with what you say in your application. You will need to demonstrate that you are following your doctor’s treatment plan, and despite that your medical condition still prevents you from working full-time.

Additionally, it’s important to keep track of your work absences.

Once Social Security determines your limitations caused by your condition, they will have a vocational expert assess whether a person with those same limitations is employable.

“Once Social Security determines the limitations caused by your condition, they will employ a vocational expert to assess whether a person with these limitations is employable. Most vocational experts will find a person to be unemployable if their condition or the treatment rendered for the condition causes the person to regularly be absent two or more days a month or be “off-task” 15% or more of the workday.” – Lloyd Bemis Disability Attorney

Even if you don’t meet the listing requirements, or your symptoms don’t “equal” those of another disorder, you may still qualify for benefits if you can’t work because of your functional limitations.

Social Security will conduct a Residual Functional Capacity assessment to evaluate how your disability affects your ability to perform your old job or if there is any other job you are able to perform, taking into account whether or not you are able to drive, your age, and level of education.

Someone with leukemia might have the following limitations:

  •    Weight restrictions on lifting objects due to weakness and fatigue;
  •    Needing to avoid certain hazards or irritants that could aggravate bruising, bleeding or tenderness
  •    Limited work environment because of infection; and/or
  •    Difficulty concentrating, multitasking and maintaining attendance because of side effects caused by chemotherapy or radiation.

If Social Security decides you cannot do your old job or that you don’t have the skills to perform a new job, you may be approved for a Medical-Vocational Allowance.

If you are 55 or older you may have a better chance for approval.

Social Security follows a set of rules to determine when the agency expects an applicant to learn a new job.

Applicants who are 55 or older often fall under a grid rule, which means they are not expected to learn a new job. For example, a 55-year-old applicant with no transferable skills might be found disabled. If you can’t go back to your old job, and you don’t have the skills to learn a new one, Social Security will likely grant you disability benefits.

Should you file a claim?

If you believe that you meet Social Security’s medical and financial requirements, you should apply for benefits.

If you are still unsure or would like to talk to someone, please contact us at 512-454-400. We are always ready to take your call and discuss your options with you free of charge. We are happy to help folks just like you find the best solution for their personal situation.

How do I file for Social Security Disability benefits?

 Greg Reed Disability lawyer

Once you have decided to file a claim, you can take the first step and apply for Social Security Disability benefits online, in person at your local Social Security Administration office, or over the phone.

After your application is submitted, Social Security will send your file to the state’s Disability Determination Services office (DDS). A claims examiner will request and review your medical records and may call you for an interview or additional paperwork. When the claims examiner has enough information, Social Security will make a decision and notify you by mail. Normally, this process takes three to four months; however, as stated above, acute leukemia and chronic myeloid leukemia are eligible for Social Security’s Compassionate Allowance program and may only take weeks. If your initial application is denied, don’t be discouraged – you will have the opportunity to appeal.

There are four steps to the Social Security appeal process:

  1.    File a Request for Reconsideration with the Social Security Administration to completely review the case.
  2.    If you don’t agree with SSA’s response to your Request for Reconsideration, you can request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). ALJs are attorneys who work for the Social Security Administration; they review SSDI cases and either uphold or overturn decisions to deny SSDI benefits. If you are not represented by an attorney at this point, now is the time to obtain legal counsel. This is a critical point in the process and will raise your chance for success.
  3.    If an ALJ does not grant your claim, you can request that the Appeals Council review your case.
  4.    Federal Court review. The final step in the appeal process is filing suit in U.S. District Court.

What will happen in court – >

If you are suffering from the effects leukemia and have been denied disability don’t give up, almost 70% are denied initially! Just call 512-454-4000 for a free, no obligation consultation to learn what your options are. Have some questions? just give us a call, we love to help folks just like you!

Do I need a disability attorney for SSDI?

If you have leukemia and cannot work, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, but applying and qualifying is a complicated process.

You may certainly file a claim on your own, but evidence shows that your chances for approval are increased significantly if you have legal representation. At each potential stage of the process, from the initial application stage to the reconsideration stage and the ALJ hearing stage, an attorney can assist you in completing the detailed forms and questionnaires required by Social Security, collecting and submitting relevant medical evidence, and preparing questionnaires for your doctors. At the ALJ hearing phase an attorney will not only continue to assure that the evidence is complete, but prepare you for questioning by the ALJ, prepare an argument on your behalf and question any doctors or vocational experts selected by the ALJ to testify at the hearing. At the Appeals Council and federal court level, a lawyer can present legal arguments to show your case was wrongfully denied. Fees charged by disability attorneys are regulated by federal law and are usually 25% of disability backpay you are owed. There are no out-of-pocket costs, and if you don’t win your case, you won’t be charged anything.

What if I don’t qualify for SSDI?

If you haven’t worked long enough to earn enough work credits, or if you earn too much income, you may be eligible for disability benefits through another Social Security program, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or from a long-term disability insurance plan through your employer or a privately purchased policy.

SSI is a program that pays monthly benefits to people with limited income and resources who are disabled, blind, or age 65 or older. SSI is based on income instead of work credits, and is financed by general funds of the U.S. Treasury. You can check eligibility requirements and begin the application for SSI online or by calling Social Security at 1-800-772-1213. You may also be able to get financial assistance from a privately purchased long-term disability policy or a policy through your employer.

I have long-term disability insurance – should I file a claim?

Yes – you should file a claim as soon as you become disabled.

Long-term disability insurance (LTD) protects your income if you are unable to work due to illness or injury and is purchased as part of a group employment plan or privately through an insurance company. Policies pay between 50-60% of your salary and benefits continue until you return to work or for the number of years stated in the policy. However, do not quit your job before you file a claim because LTD coverage is good only as long as you are employed, and be sure to check your policy’s definition of “disabled” as each policy will state the definition of “disabled” which is in use. Also, be aware that long-term disability insurance companies can require a claimant to also apply for SSDI.

Do I need a disability attorney for a long-term disability insurance claim?

It doesn’t matter if you have a long-term disability insurance policy purchased through a private insurance broker or a group policy purchased with your employer; filing a claim for long-term insurance is a complex process.

The wording of LTD policies can be confusing and the laws and regulations which affect the two types of LTD insurance differ in procedures for filing claims and appeals. An experienced LTD attorney with thorough knowledge of ERISA laws and regulations will avoid mistakes and increase your chance of success. An attorney will act on your behalf, completing your application and filing your claim in a timely manner. They can also negotiate a settlement or file an appeal for you. If it becomes necessary to file suit, an LTD attorney can prepare your case against an insurer. Most LTD attorneys handle cases on a contingency basis and charge approximately 25%-40% of a claimant’s past due benefits. You do not pay an attorney’s fee unless the attorney wins your case.
Filing a claim for disability benefits and receiving approval can be a long journey, but you can take the first steps today. Feel free to call us for a free consultation to discuss your case and options. Even if you don’t hire us, we are happy to help you make the best choices for your own individual situation.

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At The Texas Disability law firm Bemis Roach & Reed, our attorneys are committed to helping injured or disabled clients receive the benefits they deserve. Mr. Roach is AV Preeminent and SuperLawyers rated and has become a recognized leader in the field of Long Term Disability law. Mr Bemis focuses his practice on Social Security disability while Mr Reed handles both LTD and SSDI claims. Both are AV Preeminent and SuperLawyers rated and all our attorneys have been successfully helping people fight for their rights against big insurance companies and the government since 1993. If you have applied for benefits and been denied call 512-454-4000 for a free consultation 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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