Updated August 22, 2018
In response to complaints about long disability determination delays, the Social Security Administration now offers a Compassionate Allowances program for disabled workers who have applied for Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
The Compassionate Allowances program provide benefits quickly to disability applicants whose medical conditions are so serious that it's clear they would qualify for disability under an SSA impairment listing. The program allows Social Security to quickly target the most obviously disabled applicants and grants them benefits soon after applying.
If you have a condition that has been designated as a Compassionate Allowance, the SSA will approve you for disability benefits based on a relatively small amount of objective medical data. You can receive a positive award decision in as little as 10 days from when you first filed your application. In 2018, the average processing time for Social Security to process a compassionate allowance case is 19 days.
Claiming to have a disability or disease that is on the Compassionate Allowance list (CAL) is enough to put your application for benefits on the fast track for approval. Your medical records need to support your claim, but if you are found to have a Compassionate Allowance condition, you will almost always automatically qualify for disability benefits. Because it can take weeks or months for medical providers to send records to the Social Security, a claims examiner will often call your treating doctors rather than writing to them. But if you can submit some medical records that prove your diagnosis (such as a biopsy report for cancer) with your claim, this can help fast track your application.
While Compassionate Allowances allows a disability determination to be made more quickly, SSDI beneficiaries still have to wait five months after their disability onset date to begin receiving benefits (and 24 months after their onset date before Medicare benefits begin). Learn more about the onset date and waiting period.
The conditions that qualify for Compassionate Allowances include many cancers, ALS, some types of muscular dystropy and muscular atrophy, early-onset Alzheimer's disease, and a few other illnesses. For some conditions, like esophageal cancer, ALS, or an organ transplant, a diagnosis alone (with supporting evidence) is enough to qualify you for a compassionate allowance. Other conditions on the list specify criteria for how severe the illness must be; for example, malignant melanoma qualifies for a compassionate allowance only if it has metastasized. In some cases such as cancer, an illness may qualify for a compassionate allowance after it progresses; see our article on qualifying as a compassionate allowance when cancer worsens.
Not all severe or potentially fatal illnesses are on the list; for example, AIDs is not a compassionate allowance condition (instead, you must fulfill the complex severity requirements of the HIV/AIDs listing to qualify for benefits).
Social Security added five new conditions, all rare, to the CAL in 2018:
A complete list of conditions that qualify for Compassionate Allowances can be found on the Social Security website at www.ssa.gov/compassionateallowances/conditions.htm.
Compassionate Allowances (CAL) and Quick Disability Determination (QDD) are two separate processes that can overlap as your case is being decided. Compassionate Allowances naturally follow a fast track, and Quick Disability Determination is another method that Social Security uses to process other claims expeditiously. Learn more about Quick Disability Determinations.
Social Security also expedites claims where the impairment is a terminal illness. Learn more about the terminal illness program (TERI).
In addition, some SSI disability applicants' impairments qualify as presumptive disabilities, meaning those applicants can start to get monthly SSI benefits even before their disability claim is approved or denied. Learn more about the Presumptive Disability program for SSI.