How Social Security Disability’s compassionate allowances work

Over the last few years, the Social Security Administration has taken steps to fast-track the application process for Social Security Disability Insurance for individuals whose conditions are obviously disabling. The decision to fast-track an application is known as a compassionate allowance and can provide disability benefits more quickly to those who are clearly in need.

Compassionate allowances provided for those with certain conditions

To be eligible for a compassionate allowance, applicants must have a condition on the list of 165 illnesses and diseases that qualify individuals for a compassionate allowance. These conditions are generally severe, inoperable or incurable and likely to be permanent or end in death.

On the list of 165 qualifying conditions are cancers, autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular conditions, brain injuries and neurological disorders. These include acute leukemia, late-stage and inoperable breast and bladder cancers, Lou Gehrig's disease and schizophrenia.

How to qualify for a compassionate allowance

Compassionate allowances are not a separate disability program from SSDI, but a way to quickly identify those in most need of disability benefits based on their medical conditions. Those who believe they qualify for a compassionate allowance apply for SSDI benefits like any other applicant. Then, the Social Security Administration identifies whether or not the applicant qualifies for the fast-track option based on the applicant's medical condition.

If approved, a compassionate allowance can drastically reduce the amount of time an applicant waits for benefits. Under normal circumstances, an SSDI applicant must wait months and in some cases years for their benefits. It takes an average of two and a half months for the Administration to make an initial decision regarding benefits for each applicant. If denied, the appeals process lengthens the time it takes applicants to be awarded benefits. For example, the third step of the appeals process, a hearing by an administrative law judge, can take up to 11 months to begin.

However, if a compassionate allowance is granted, applicants can expect a decision in a matter of days-not months.

Social Security Disability Insurance eligibility

Not all individuals who are disabled are eligible for SSDI benefits. To qualify, applicants must have worked in a job covered by Social Security and have a permanent disability or condition that prevents them from continuing to work. In the Social Security program, workers earn credits for income made within a certain year. For example, in 2012, workers who made $4,520 or more in income earned four credits for the year.

To be eligible for SSDI benefits, workers must have earned 40 credits, with at least 20 earned in the 10 years prior to becoming disabled. In addition, their disabling condition must be expected to last at least a year or end in death.

Those who meet these requirements and believe they are also eligible for a compassionate allowance to fast-track their application should consult with an experienced Social Security Disability lawyer who can walk them through the complex application process as well as the appeals process if their application is initially denied.