Ask Rusty – Speeding up Social Security disability claims

Dear Rusty:

I have been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and my condition has gone downhill pretty fast, to the point that I’m not able to work anymore. I think I could get Social Security disability, but from what I’ve heard it can take years to get a disability claim approved. With my condition getting worse every day, I don’t have that many years left, but I know the bills will still keep coming. I just wish there was some way to get some financial help while I’m dealing with this.

Signed: Discouraged

Dear Discouraged:

Yes, as has been widely reported, the backlog of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) applications has ballooned to a number which can cause an initial determination to take 3-6 months, and an appeal of an initial denial can take a year or more. That can be pretty discouraging news for someone such as you dealing with a severe debilitating condition which so obviously meets the definition of “disability”. But here is what I hope will be some encouraging news:

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a program, which helps accelerate disability claims for those whose medical condition is so obviously acute and debilitating that approval is practically assured. This program, known as the Compassionate Allowance (CAL) program, is intended to identify and fast-track SSDI applications where the disability is patently obvious and from a medical condition or disease already appearing on the Compassionate Allowance list, including certain cancers, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), acute leukemia and over 200 others. Although the SSA uses technology to try to automatically identify disability applications which qualify for CAL, you can help speed up your application by applying for SSDI in person and notifying the interviewer that your condition is on the Compassionate Allowance List and thus eligible for fast-track handling.  You should bring along copies of medical records which confirm your diagnosis as well as contact information for your medical service provider(s). For proven conditions on the CAL list, SSDI applications may get a positive decision in as little as 10 days from when you first file and with a relatively small amount of medical proof. But since medical providers are sometimes slow to provide confirming medical records to Social Security, this can sometimes be a factor which delays even Compassionate Allowance cases.  It will help speed your case if you bring with you as much medical information as possible to prove your condition. You may even be eligible for retroactive benefits (up to 12 months) back to the date that the onset of your disability first left you unable to work.

Although your case clearly qualifies for the Compassionate Allowance process, other medical diagnoses not listed as a CAL condition may also qualify for fast-track handling through an SSA program called Quick Disability Determination (QDD). The QDD can be used in cases where a disability clearly prevents a person from working, but isn’t listed as a CAL condition. A Social Security disability attorney may be helpful when applying for QDD as well as CAL consideration (disability attorneys’ fees are limited by law).

One final note: Although SSDI applications can be submitted online, we recommend applying in person in order to ensure the most efficient handling of your application. The SSA field office staff has the ability to identify your application as eligible for Compassionate Allowance. You can find out more about the Compassionate Allowance program at www.socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances.

The information presented in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The opinions and interpretations expressed in this article are the viewpoints of the AMAC Foundation’s Social Security Advisory. To submit a request, contact the Foundation at info@amacfoundation.org.