Disability Benefits for Leukemia

Some types of leukemia will easily qualify for disability benefits.

Leukemia is caused by the bone marrow making abnormal white cells that don’t die when they are supposed to. When there are too many abnormal white cells, called leukemia cells, it makes it too hard for the healthy blood cells to function properly.

Leukemia is generally divided into two groups, depending on how fast the disease develops: acute leukemia (which develops quickly) and chronic leukemia (which develops over a long period of time). The specific type of leukemia you suffer from, either acute or chronic, depends on which blood cells are affected.

Symptoms and Treatment for Leukemia

Both types of leukemia generally cause swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, night sweats and fevers, unplanned weight loss, frequent infections and abdominal and joint pain.

Treatment and prognosis depends on what type of leukemia a person is diagnosed with, the age of the person, the general health of the person, and how much the disease has progressed since diagnosis.

Can I Get Disability for My Leukemia?

Leukemia is one of the qualifying conditions established in the SSA's disability listings. Most of the types of leukemia covered by the leukemia disability listing, described in Listing 13.06, are of the acute type because they generally have a poorer prognosis than chronic leukemia.

To win automatic approval for disability based on your leukemia, you must prove that your leukemia is one of the following:

  • Acute leukemia confirmed by a bone marrow study. This includes T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, acute myelocytic leukemia, acutelymphocytic leukemia, acute monocyticleukemia, and any other type of acute leukemia.
  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia in the accelerated or blast phase. Also called CML or chronic granulocytic leukemia (CGL).
  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia in the chronic phase, if:
    • you've had a bone marrow or stem cell transplant, or
    • your disease progressed despite cancer therapies such as chemo.

The SSA will find you disabled for at least two years from when you were first diagnosed with leukemia or suffered a relapse, or for at least one year from when you received either a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. After that, the SSA will evaluate any long-term affects the cancer or treatment has had on your body.

Even if your specific leukemia is one of the above types listed in the disability listing for leukemia, it may "equal" the listing if its severity is equal to the severity of the listed types of leukemia.

It is important to provide the SSA with as much medical evidence as possible to support your claim. Necessary medical evidence includes biopsy and blood test results, MRIs, x-rays, CT scans, medication lists and side effects, the names of all hospitals and clinics you visited for treatment of your leukemia, and your physician’s records.

What If My Leukemia Doesn’t Meet the Listing Requirements?

Some types of leukemia, usually of the chronic type, do not meet or equal the listing requirements needed to qualify you for automatic approval. This does not mean that you cannot win your claim, but it may be more difficult.

If your leukemia does not meet or equal a listing, the SSA will determine if you can do your old job despite the functional limitations imposed by your illness. For example, many leukemia sufferers experience significant fatigue and need to take frequent and unscheduled breaks throughout the day. Fatigue related to your leukemia may also make it difficult to show up for work every day. If you are likely to miss work on a regular basis because of your leukemia, and the effects of your disease would cause a 20% reduction in your work productivity, you are supposed to be approved for disability benefits.

Some leukemia patients experience serious joint pain that makes physical work-related activities such as lifting, carrying, crawling, stopping, pushing, and pulling difficult. If you suffer from joint pain and it affects your ability to perform physical tasks, your doctor should record your physical limitations in detail in your medical record. The SSA will often approve benefits where the person is limited to lifting or carrying 10 pounds or less, and where a person is prevented entirely from stooping.

If the SSA finds that you are still able to perform your past work despite your limitations, your claim will be denied. However, if the SSA finds you cannot do your old job because of your leukemia, it will try to find other work you can do despite your disease. To decide this, the SSA will consider your age, education, past work experience, and any work-related limitations that stem from your leukemia. To learn more about this process, read Nolo's section on how Social Security decides if you're disabled.

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