How Quickly Can I Get Disability Benefits for Esophageal Cancer?

If you are applying for Social Security Disability benefits on the basis of esophageal cancer, you should be able to get approved quickly.

Esophageal cancer is cancer of the esophagus, which most often occurs in the lower portion of the tube that connects the throat to the stomach. The two main types of esophageal cancer are adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

There are typically no signs or symptoms of esophageal cancer in its early stages. When symptoms do begin to occur, they usually include:

  • problems swallowing, including choking when eating
  • unexplained weight loss
  • chest pain, pressure, or burning
  • fatigue
  • indigestion or heartburn, and
  • coughing or a hoarse voice.
Because esophageal cancer is generally discovered in its later stages, the prognosis for those who are diagnosed with esophageal cancer is often poor.

Disability Benefits for Esophageal Cancer

Social Security has noted the severity of esophageal cancer and makes it easier and faster to qualify for disability benefits based on esophageal cancer than for most other cancers and diseases.

Meeting the Disability Listing

The Social Security blue book, listings of impairments that automatically qualify an individual for disability benefits, lists esophageal cancer under “Malignant Neoplastic Diseases,” Section 13.16. To qualify for this listing, you must simply show that you have either carcinoma or sarcoma of the esophagus.

As medical evidence of your diagnosis, Social Security requests documentation identifying the origin of malignancy and the areas the cancer has affected. The agency also wants to see information about the treatment you've had, including the duration, frequency, and response to treatment, and any residual impairments after treatment.

Operative notes and pathology reports from a biopsy of the esophageal cancer are most useful. A biopsy is often taken during an esophagoscopy/endoscopy, which is a camera sent down your throat to look for cancer, and an x-ray of the esophagus with a barium swallow is taken to clearly show the lining of your esophagus. While distant metastases are not necessary to be approved for disability, your doctor will probably do tests to see if the cancer has spread, such as a CT, PET, or bone scan.

Compassionate Allowance

The compassionate allowance program was created by Social Security to expedite applications for impairments that are severe and obviously meet disability standards. These applications are fast-tracked: Social Security aims to award benefits to those with compassionate allowances within 20 days of receipt of application.

To qualify for a compassionate allowance for esophageal cancer, you must provide evidence that you meet the above medical listing. Social Security has recommended including a pathology report from a biopsy taken during esophagoscopy. Compassionate allowances will not be denied simply for lack of medical evidence, but it is beneficial to provide as much medical evidence as possible so that your decision is not delayed.

You should note "compassionate allowances" clearly on your application. For more information, see our article on Compassionate Allowances.

Time Limit for Collecting Disability

Though esophageal cancer is very serious and cannot be cured, there are cases where an individual’s esophageal cancer goes into remission. You can collect disability for as long as you are unable to work due to your cancer, but when your cancer goes into remission and there has been no evidence of cancer for three or more years, your disability benefits may stop.

In other words, if your esophageal cancer goes into remission, you are deemed to be disabled for up to three years after the start of your complete remission. And if your cancer reappears, the three-year time limit will not begin again until your cancer is back in remission.

Preserving Disability Benefits After Death

Unfortunately, because esophageal cancer is often not caught until its later stages, the prognosis for survival may be poor once you are diagnosed. If you apply for SSI (a need-based disability benefit), your benefits will start right away, but if you apply for SSDI (Social Security disability), there is a five-month waiting period for benefits that starts after your disability onset date.

In case you were to succumb to esophageal cancer, heaven forbid, before getting approved for benefits, there are steps that you can take to insure that your family reserves the right to seek out the benefits that were owed to you by Social Security. In any of the following cases, your family may be able to collect the disability benefits owed to you:

  • You filed a disability application.
  • Your case is in the appeals process.
  • You have applied for SSDI and were approved, but payments have not yet started due to the mandatory five-month wait before the start of payments. (But benefits will be owed only after five months from the disability onset date.)
  • You've sent a written statement to Social Security that you intend to file for disability benefits; this will give your family six months to file application on your behalf for a closed period of disability benefits.
  • You never contacted Social Security; your family has three months after your death to file an application on your behalf.

For further information on the ability of family members to continue an open disability claim or start a new claim, see our article Disability Claims and Appeals After Death. Your dependents may be eligible for ongoing Social Security survivors benefits as well.

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