People with Cancer are Stuck in the Disability Backlog

Tai Prohaska, MPH
Manager of Strategic Alliances, Allsup

Most people don’t know much about the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Disability-Backlogprogram until they have to stop working because of an illness or injury. Then, one of their first questions is, “Am I eligible?” They may qualify for monthly income (based on what they have paid into the system) and other benefits if they:

  • Are unable to work for at least 12 months or more, or their condition is terminal
  • Have paid FICA taxes for at least five of the last 10 years
  • Are over 21 and under full retirement age (65-67)

For more information about disability insurance options, read Triage Cancer’s Quick Guide to Disability Insurance.

While SSDI benefits can be useful, there are some barriers to getting access to these benefits:

  • It’s not easy to obtain benefits. Two-thirds of people who apply are denied and must go through an appeals process that can sometimes take years.
  • People are waiting an average 596 days for a disability hearing. Almost half of U.S. hearing offices now report waits of 600-plus days, including 14 offices whose times exceed 700 days. Click here for the average wait in your state.
  • After the hearing, people could wait an estimated 78 to 120 days to find out the judge’s decision.

The disability backlog was also an issue in 2009, when Allsup surveyed individuals going through the SSDI appeals process. Of those surveyed, 90% said they faced negative repercussions while waiting for their SSDI award. These included:

  • Stress on family – 63%
  • Worsening illness – 53%
  • Draining of retirement/savings – 35%
  • Lost health insurance – 24%
  • Missed mortgage payments – 14%
  • Foreclosure – 6%
  • Bankruptcy – 5%

Cancer is one of the top five categories of conditions that qualify someone for disability insurance benefits, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA). A 2013 study estimated that cancer accounted for 9% of all SSDI awards. Based on those numbers, we can only guess how many individuals with cancer are stuck in the SSDI backlog.

Banish the Backlog

One way individuals with cancer can improve their likelihood of avoiding the SSDI backlog is to get help at the very beginning of the process, starting with an eligibility assessment before they ever go to the SSA. Most people who apply through the SSA’s website for SSDI are denied. They don’t have enough work credits, do not submit adequate medical records, do not fill out SSA’s forms properly, or do not respond to the SSA’s requests for additional information. The process can be overwhelming and confusing.

Many websites offer tips on how to apply for disability. Allsup has a free online screening tool, empower by Allsup®, which also incorporates return-to-work information. Getting help with the initial application can mean the difference between getting benefits in a matter of months instead of years.

If you are stuck in the disability backlog and want to post your experiences and suggestions for tackling this problem, visit the Banish the Backlog Facebook page at www.facebook.com/banishthebacklog.