What to Know About Social Security Disability During Cancer Treatment

A cancer diagnosis often brings with it financial concerns. Along with medical bills, you may be worried about losing income from your job if you can’t work during your illness and treatment. Fortunately, the federal government has two major financial support programs that may be able to help people looking for Social Security Disability. Both are for people facing long-term disability that prevents them from working for at least a year. 

Let’s break down what you need to know about these programs—Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Federal disability benefits 101

The Social Security Administration runs both SSDI and SSI. Both programs require you to meet the same strict disability criteria, based on your medical condition.

SSI & SSDI: What’s the difference? 

SSDI is an insurance program funded by deductions taken from your paychecks, or your self-employment tax paid to the IRS if you have your own business or work as a freelancer. You have to meet work history requirements in order to qualify for SSDI, and your benefit amount is based on your earnings history. You also need to have worked fairly recently before your disability began and for a certain minimum duration. Older people have longer work duration requirements than younger people. 

SSI is for people who don’t qualify for SSDI, or who qualify for only very small SSDI payments. You generally have to earn very little income and have few other resources in order to qualify for SSI. Both programs provide you with monthly payments if you qualify. 

Both programs are for people with long-term disability

One important feature of these programs is that they are both for people expected to be seriously disabled for a long time. To qualify for benefits, your condition has to prevent you from working for a year or longer. People who aren’t expected to survive their cancer also qualify for benefits.

To decide on your claim, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will consider your medical condition and the kind of work you’ve done in the past, as well as your educational history, skill set, and age. They’ll assess not just whether you can do your most recent job, but also whether there are other kinds of work you might be able to do instead.

Getting payments can take time

The application process for these programs is lengthy and can be complex. Both programs can take months or even longer to give you a decision and start paying benefits. 

SSDI includes a five-month waiting period from the date your disability began before payments can start. That said, just as with many jobs, you get paid for the previous month’s disability. In other words, while you are eligible to be paid after five months of disability, you typically see your first check after six months. 

Regardless of how long it takes to approve your application, SSDI pays back the benefits you’re owed based on the date you became disabled. So it’s very important to work with your doctors to document any limitations on your activities caused by your cancer and treatments as soon as you experience them. 

To this end, tell your healthcare team you’re applying for benefits. They should be familiar with the documentation requirements, but you should still remind them to make notes in your chart about how your cancer and treatment are impacting your functioning. This will strengthen your application and make it more likely to win approval without delays or requests for more evidence.

For SSI, you won’t receive back payments before the effective date of application, so it’s especially important to start the application process as soon as you can. You can either call the Social Security Administration to make an appointment to file your SSI application or you can file an online application. If you choose the former option, as long as you file within 60 days of the call, the date you called to make an appointment will be considered the effective date of application. 

The content on this website is intended to provide the best possible information for you, but should not be considered—or used as a substitute for—medical advice. If you have questions about your diagnosis or treatment, please contact your health care provider(s). For questions or comments about this content, please email us at [email protected].