Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming both mentally and physically. On top of it all, extensive treatment may necessitate extended periods of time away from work, resulting in a loss of income. If you are unable to work full time due to cancer treatment and/or its side effects, you may be eligible to receive disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). According to the SSA, disability benefits are available for those who are no longer able to perform a "substantial" amount of work as the result of a physical or mental impairment that is expected to last at least 12 months.
Most women with a stage III or IV ovarian cancer diagnosis will be automatically eligible for disability benefits. If your diagnosis does not make you automatically eligible, you may still be able to receive benefits, but will be required to undergo a derermination of your ability to work called a residual functional capacity test (RFC) to determine eligibility.
There are two types of diability benefits offered by the SSA:
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is for individuals who have not paid into the system for a long enough time or recently enough to collect SSDI benefits. SSI eligibility requires both that the individual be disabled and meet very low income guidelines.
You may still be able to receive SSDI or retirement benefits if you have a spouse or former spouse who receives disability or retirement benefits, or if you are widowed and your spouse was eligible for and/or receiving benefits.
Can I apply for and receive SSDI benefits if I am working?
Yes, you may be eligible to receive SSDI benefits while working, as long as you earn less than $1,260/month. If you earn more than $1,260/month, however, your application will be denied or your benefits will end, as the SSA will deem you capable of working.
How long does it take to get approved?
For most applications, the approval process can take 3-5 months, not including appeals. However, if you are deemed automatically eligible due to your diagnosis, you will most likely receive approval within a week or two.
How long do I have to wait to start getting benefits?
There is a mandatory five month waiting period before you can begin receiving benefits.
I have been out of work for a while already. Can benefits be backdated?
It is possible for benefits to be backdated depending on the date of your diagnosis and how long you were already out of work before applying. However, you cannot in any case receive benefits for the first five months after disability onset date. So for example, if you have been out of work for three months, and then apply and are approved for benefits, you still have to wait at least two more months before receiving benefits.
Can I get both SSDI and SSI benefits?
Yes, if you are receiving SSDI benefits and your monthly income including those benefits meets the low income requirement of SSI, you may be able to receive both concurrently.
Can I go back to work and continue receiving benefits?
Yes. You can continue to work or return to work and receive benefits as long as you are still considered disabled and your income does not exceed $1,260/month. You may also continue to receive benefits while working (with no earnings limit) for a trial period of nine months once every five years.
What if I go back to work and my benefits stop, but then have a recurrence of my cancer and I have to stop working again?
You will be deemed to be disabled for a minimum of three years, so if your cancer recurs within thee years, you can begin collecting benefits again without having to reapply.
Does collecting disability benefits decrease my retirement benefits?
No. Disability benefits do not affect the amount of your retirement benefits. If you have a choice to collect one or the other, it is typically advisable to collect SSDI for as long as possible before switching to social security retirement, since your retirement benefits increase the longer you wait.
Can I collect disability and social security retirement at the same time?
No. If you have reached full retirement age, you may only collect retirement benefits and will not be eligible for SSDI. If you are receiving SSDI benefits, you will be automatically converted to retirement benefits when you reach full retirement age. Click here to find out your full retirement age.
Am I eligible for Medicare when receiving disability benefits?
Disabled individuals receiving SSDI benefits are eligible for Medicare after a 24 month waiting period. Disabled individuals receiving SSI benefits are typically eligible for Medicaid and can enroll immediately.
This all sounds complex - is it worth the trouble?
Click here to hear an ovarian cancer survivor's experience applying for and receiving disability benefits during and after treatment.
CAUTION: If you are currently enrolled in Medicaid, an increase in income due to disability payments could cause you to lose your Medicaid coverage. Follow the steps below to help determine whether applying for disability is the right choice for you.