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Are terminally ill people being forced to wait too long for SSDI benefits?

Back in January, our blog discussed how the Social Security Administration has created the Compassionate Allowances initiative in recognition of the fact that some applicants for disability benefits are suffering from conditions that are so grave that they will very clearly have no problem satisfying the agency's criteria for assistance.

To recap, the CAL initiative provides those diagnosed with one of 225 designated diseases with eligibility for fast-tracked processing, meaning a decision on their application for SSDI benefits in weeks, as opposed to months or even years.

As beneficial as this is, the reality is that those who are fortunate enough to see their applications approved may still have to wait months before they start receiving SSDI benefits.

While this can be problematic under the best of circumstances, as those suffering from disabling conditions are unable to work, it’s even more so for those with a CAL condition, as they might not live long enough to see any benefits awarded.

To illustrate, consider a recent report outlining the experience of an Illinois man who was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer when he was just 40 years old.

According to family members, the man, despite seeing his application for disability benefits approved under the CAL initiative, had to wait nine months for his first check and struggled mightily to provide for his family during the interim. Sadly, he died within one week of receiving the first check.

In case you have any doubts about how big of a problem this is, consider that statistics from the SSA show that of the 68,827 people approved under the CAL initiative in 2016, 91 passed away while waiting for benefits.

As distressing as this reality is, the good news is that it hasn't gone overlooked.

Indeed, Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) introduced legislation -- the Social Security Disability Fairness Act of 2016 -- that, if passed, would eliminate the waiting period for disability benefits for those diagnosed with a terminal illness, meaning one that has left them with six months or less to live as certified by two independent physicians.

“It just seems like a backward process, especially when you can get it verified by two independent doctors that you’re fighting this illness,” said Davis. “I think that the bureaucracy in Washington ought to work much faster

It remains to be seen what will become of Davis' efforts, as his bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Social Security in June. Nevertheless, it's encouraging to see momentum and possible change on the horizon for individuals left in a truly unimaginable situation.

Consider speaking with a skilled legal professional if you have questions about disability benefits or your initial claim has been denied.

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Mr. McKellar was voted by his peers as a “Top Attorney” by Knoxville’s CityView magazine in its 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 editions. In 2014, 2015, and 2016, Mr. McKellar was selected as a member of the “Top 100 Trial Lawyers” by the National Trial Lawyers.

Ms. Easter was voted by her peers as a “Top Attorney” in Cityview Magazine for Family Law / Divorce / Child Support in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

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