Focus on the Law

By Sharon Frankenberg,
Attorney at Law

Social Security disability benefits are only for individuals that are totally disabled.  Partial disability or short-term disability is not covered.  Disability under Social Security requires that a person be unable to do the work that they did prior to their disability;  the person must be unable to adjust to do other work because of their medical condition or conditions;   AND the person’s disability must have lasted or be expected to last for a least one year or result in death.

Even if the person’s disability is expected to last for at least a year, there is a minimum five-month waiting period before he or she can collect benefits.

This five-month period must be full calendar months of continuous disability.  Any disability benefits paid will deduct this five month waiting period from the total back pay benefits approved.  Due to the length of time it takes to process and approve disability claims, it is advisable for individuals to go ahead and file a claim for disability if they know that their disability will be long term or permanent.   The five month waiting period will most likely pass during the time the claim is being processed.

Many disability claims take months or even years to be approved.  Sometimes this is due to the time it takes to locate and obtain medical records.  Other times it is due to the need for additional examinations or for experts to review the records.

Often times it is just due to the huge volume of claims being processed.  As a way to speed up this long process, Social Security has developed a list of conditions that will be quickly approved when properly documented.  These conditions are referred to as Compassionate Allowances (CAL).   The CAL list includes medical conditions that are so severe that individuals with these conditions obviously meet Social Security’s definition of disability.

This list of  Compassionate Allowances conditions was developed as a result of information received from a variety of sources.  Comments from the public, comments from advocacy groups, research with the National Institutes of Health, counsel from medical and scientific experts and comments from the Social Security and Disability Determination Service all influenced the selection of the conditions included on the list.

New conditions may be added on an annual basis.  Examples of these conditions include the following:  Acute Leukemia, Aplastic Anemia, Congenital Lymphedema, Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, Esophageal Cancer, Liver Cancer, Malignant Multiple Sclerosis, Mitral Valve Atresia, Pancreatic Cancer, Pleural Mesothelioma, Pulmonary Kaposi Sarcoma, ALS/Parkinsonism Dementia Complex and Thyroid Cancer.  The full list may be found at http://www.ssa.gov/compassionateallowances/conditions.htm.

An individual with one of the CAL listed conditions applying for Social Security disability should clearly indicate on his or her application that he or she has a CAL condition.  Submitting good medical records such as a biopsy report for proof of a particular cancer will help the claim be processed faster.  A person filing with a CAL condition will not be notified that his or her claim is being fast-tracked not will having a CAL condition increase the dollar amount of the benefits awarded.

The hope is that under this new system, the decision to approve the claim might be received in weeks instead of years.

Sharon Frankenberg is an experienced attorney licensed in Tennessee since 1988.  She represents Social Security disability claimants and represents creditors in bankruptcy proceedings. She is a sole practitioner who handles foreclosures, landlord-tenant, probate, collections and general civil matters.  Her office number in Knoxville is (865)539-2100.

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