Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma (also known as Hodgkin’s disease) are cancers that affect the organs of the body’s immune system, such as the lymph nodes and spleen. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is far more common than Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Symptoms and Treatment for Lymphoma
The symptoms of both types of lymphoma vary depending on how fast the cancer spreads and where specifically the cancer is located. Symptoms include drenching night-sweats, fevers, fatigue, unintentional weight loss, and unexplained widespread itching. Treatment and prognosis depend on how advanced your disease is, your age, your medical history, and the specific type of lymphoma you have been diagnosed with.
Can I Get Disability for My Lymphoma?
In order to be eligible for disability, the Social Security Administration (SSA) must first determine whether you meet the basic requirements:
- You can't be working at the substantial gainful activity (SGA) level ($1,090 a month for 2015).
- Your impairment must be expected to last at least one year
- Your impairment must be “severe,” which the SSA defines as causing more than a minimal interference in your ability to do work-related activities.
If you don’t meet these basic requirements, the SSA will automatically deny your claim. If you do meet these basic requirements, Social Security will determine whether your illness is qualifying condition in the agency's "blue book" of disability listings. If your illness is a qualifying condition and you meet all the criteria established in the listing, you will be automatically approved for disability.
Lymphoma Disability Listing
Both Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Hodgkin’s disease are qualifying conditions in Social Security's "blue book" of disability listings, under Listing 13.05.
To be automatically approved for disability based on non-Hodgkin's lymphoma under Listing 13.05, you must be diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that is either:
- fast-growing (aggressive) and fails to go into remission or returns after your initial anti-cancer therapy (such as chemo or radiation), or
- slow growing (indolent) and needs more than one anti-cancer treatment series in a 12-month consecutive time period (this includes mycosis fungoides and follicular small cleaved cell).
To be approved for disability based on Hodgkin's disease, you need to have lymphoma that either:
- does not go into complete remission, or
- returns within one year of finishing anti-cancer therapy.
The listing requirements are complicated; you should review the listing with your doctor to see if you meet the criteria. For more information on the requirements regarding inoperable, unresectable, recurrent, or metastasized tumors, see our article on when cancer qualifies for disability benefits.
Bone Marrow or Stem Cell Transplants
If you've undergone a bone marrow or stem cell transplant, for either Hodgkin's or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Social Security will consider you disabled for at least one year after your transplant. After one year, Social Security will look at any long-term effects the treatment had on your health to see if your disability benefits should continue.
What Medical Evidence Do I Need?
It is important that your doctor (preferably your oncologist) provide a letter to Social Security describing the nature of your lymphoma; for example, the letter should describe how advanced your cancer is and whether it has spread to other parts of your body. You must also provide any lab reports, biopsy reports, CT scans, MRI reports, hospital records, description of treatments and side effects, and doctors’ reports. The more information you provide Social Security the more likely your claim will be approved; often, people are denied simply because they did not provide the Social Security with the medical evidence needed to approve their claim.
What If My Lymphoma Doesn’t Meet the Listing?
If your Non-Hodgkin’s or Hodgkin’s lymphoma doesn’t meet the listing requirements, you may still be approved for disability, but it will be more difficult. For lymphoma patients, this may occur when the disease is present but not getting worse (that is, it's not progressive).
In order to be approved for disability without meeting the listing, you must show that because of your lymphoma, you can’t do your past work, and that there are no other jobs you can do. Social Security will look at your age, education, past work experience, and your work-related limitations cause by your lymphoma to see if this is true.
It can help your case, whether you're at the initial application stage or the appeal stage, to ask your doctor to fill out a residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment and submit it to Social Security. The RFC assessment would describe any work-related limitations you have that stem from your lymphoma. For example, lymphoma can cause significant fatigue that may require you to rest or lay down throughout the day. Fatigue can also interfere with your ability to concentrate, complete your job on time, or stick with a task until it is done. These limitations would make it difficult for you to perform most jobs, but your doctor needs to include what you can and cannot do on the RFC assessment. Social Security will often approve disability applicants who can demonstrate that their disability causes a 20% reduction in their productivity.
Also, some patients undergo removal of numerous lymph nodes for treatment of their lymphoma. Occasionally the surgery causes long-lasting pain and swelling that restricts the patient’s range of motion where the lymph nodes were removed. If you experience pain, swelling, and limited range of motion because of the surgery on your lymph nodes, your RFC should describe this complication in detail. For example, if you can no longer reach overhead or stoop because of the pain from your lymph node removal, your RFC should state this. It should also explain any restrictions in how much you can lift or carry and how far you can walk. The more work-related restrictions you can prove that result from your lymphoma, the more likely the SSA is to approve your claim.
Your RFC must be supported by objective medical evidence in order for the SSA to consider it. For more information on your RFC, see our article on residual functional capacity.