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IL SSDI lawyerThere are many different types of health conditions that can limit a person’s ability to provide for themselves. If a person’s illness or health issues prevent them from working and earning an income, they may be able to receive Social Security disability benefits. Cancer is a disease that can significantly affect a person’s health and well-being. In addition to suffering from the effects of the disease, treatment such as surgery or chemotherapy can impact a person’s condition and contribute to their disabilities. Those who have been diagnosed with cancer will want to determine whether their condition will qualify them for Social Security disability. With the assistance of an attorney, they can ensure that they follow the correct steps when applying for disability benefits.

Forms of Cancer Included in the Listing of Impairments

Social Security maintains a “listing of impairments” that specifies certain health conditions that are considered to be disabilities. This listing includes multiple types of cancer, such as:

  • Soft tissue cancers of the head and neck, which are considered to be a disability for at least 18 months after the original diagnosis.
  • Skin cancers that have metastasized beyond regional lymph nodes.
  • Lymphoma that persists or recurs following treatment. If a person receives a bone marrow or stem cell transplant, they will be considered to be disabled for at least 12 months after the transplantation.
  • Acute leukemia, which is considered to be a disability for at least 24 months after the initial diagnosis or 12 months after a stem cell or bone marrow transplant.
  • Certain types of breast cancer, including small-cell carcinoma, cancers that extend to the chest wall or skin, or secondary lymphedema that requires surgical treatment.
  • Bone cancers that are inoperable or recurrent.
  • Cancers that affect the central nervous system, including the brain and/or spinal cord.
  • Lung cancer, which is usually considered to be a disability for at least 18 months after the date of diagnosis.
  • Cancers that affect the stomach, esophagus, liver, pancreas, or gallbladder.
  • Intestinal or kidney cancer that is inoperable or recurrent.
  • Bladder cancer that extends beyond the wall of the bladder, is inoperable, or recurs after a total cystectomy.
  • Cancers that affect the uterus, cervix, ovaries, or vagina.
  • Prostate cancer that is progressive or recurrent or metastasizes to internal organs.
  • Cancer of the penis that metastasizes beyond regional lymph nodes.
  • Testicular cancer that is progressive or recurrent following chemotherapy.

Even if a form of cancer does not meet the specific requirements specified in the listing of impairments, it may still be considered to be a disability if it is equivalent to one of the listings or if it has affected a person’s ability to participate in substantial gainful activity.

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IL disability lawyerA new rule that went into effect December 16, 2020, could make it harder for disabled individuals seeking to qualify for Social Security disability benefits. The rule changes the disability appeals process by allowing attorneys who work for the Social Security Administration to conduct hearings and make decisions on whether the claimant is eligible for benefits. Up until December, these hearings were always overseen by independent and impartial administrative law judges (ALJ).

Social Security Disability Benefits Process

It is important for anyone who is applying for Social Security disability to understand how complicated and drawn out this process often is and why it can be critical to have an experienced Chicago disability attorney advocating for you. There can be up to four steps in applying for benefits:

  • Initial application: Many people file their initial request for disability benefits either online or over the phone. It is rare that an applicant’s initial application is approved at this stage. If a claim is denied, the applicant can request a reconsideration.
  • Reconsideration: An applicant has 60 days from their date of denial to file a Request for Reconsideration. The Social Security Administration will again review the application. Sometimes, at this level, the agency will approve the applicant’s claim and they will begin receiving benefits. However, it is also very common for the agency to deny the claim again. If this occurs, the applicant can request a hearing.
  • Hearing: An applicant again has 60 days from the day their Request for Reconsideration was denied to file a Request for a Hearing. The hearing usually takes place at the applicant’s local Social Security Administration Office in front of an ALJ. It is highly recommended that the applicant has a qualified disability attorney who is experienced in defending denied Social Security disability benefits. Once the attorney presents all the evidence on behalf of the applicant, the ALJ will decide if the claim should be approved. If the ALJ denies the claim, the applicant can appeal the decision to the Appeals Council.
  • Appeals Council: These appeal hearings are decided by administrative appeal judges (AAJ). Unlike an ALJ, who is impartial and independent, an AAJ works directly for the Social Security Administration. The role of the AAJ is not to evaluate the applicant’s case, but only to determine if the ALJ made a technical error or did not consider any relevant medical information during the hearing.

New Policy

Under the new policy, those same AAJs will now be allowed to hear and decide hearings instead of or in addition to ALJs and this could have a detrimental impact on an applicant’s ability to obtain a fair and just hearing. In addition to requiring ALJs to be independent and impartial from the Social Security Administration, they also are required to have a minimum of seven years experience as a licensed and practicing attorney and have significant experience in trials and litigation.

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IL disabilityIf you suffer from injuries or illnesses that make it difficult or impossible for you to continue working and earning an income, you may be able to receive Social Security disability benefits. However, the process of applying for disability benefits can be complicated, and applications are often denied. When appealing a disability denial, it is important to understand the factors that will be reviewed to determine whether you are disabled and eligible to receive benefits.

Analysis of Whether a Person Is Disabled

When reviewing a plaintiff’s appeal of the denial of Social Security disability benefits, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is required to perform a five-step analysis in which the following questions are considered, in order:

  • Is the plaintiff currently unemployed?
  • Do the plaintiff’s medical issues constitute a severe impairment?
  • Is the plaintiff’s impairment one of the specific impairments listed in Social Security regulations, or is it equal to one of these impairments?
  • Is the plaintiff unable to perform work in their former job?
  • Is the plaintiff unable to perform work in another occupation?

An answer of “yes” to either step three or step five will result in a finding that the plaintiff is disabled. If the plaintiff can meet the requirements of step four and show that they are unable to perform work they have done in the past, the Commissioner of Social Security has the burden of proof to show that the plaintiff should be able to find work based on the available jobs in the national economy that meet their physical limitations.

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