Is There a Way for the Terminally Ill to Speed Up the SSD Process?

When a person is first diagnosed with a terminal illness, their doctor will explain to them how long they can expect to live and what – if any – treatments are available. But that diagnosis also raises questions a doctor may be unable to answer, such as, “How will my family get through this?”


Social Security Disability benefits can provide some financial support for terminally ill people and their families. Applying for benefits, however, takes time, and even in cases of terminal illness, a person cannot receive a benefit check until five months after the onset of the disability.


Typically, a person applying for benefits may have to wait several months for the Social Security Administration to approve their claim for benefits (and the SSA usually rejects first-time applications). But the SSA has streamlined the process for people who are terminally ill. Its Compassionate Allowance (CAL) program enables people with qualifying illnesses to be immediately approved for benefits (the five-month waiting period still applies, however). The SSA also fast-tracks terminal illness (TERI) cases.


Compassionate Allowance Conditions



The CAL list includes terminal illnesses, progressive diseases, and conditions that may not be fatal but which require immediate and intensive medical treatment. Acute leukemia, for example, is an approved CAL condition; when diagnosed early, or at a young age, many people may survive this illness, but the survival rate for people older than 60 is relatively low.


TERI Cases


TERI cases are those involving an illness that is untreatable and expected to result in death. Sometimes, disability applicants may not recognize that their condition could qualify for expedited TERI processing, and it’s the SSA claims processors who first flag an application as a possible TERI case. Applications that may prompt a TERI flag include those from people who:



  • Have any Stage IV malignant cancer that is recurrent


  • Are awaiting a heart, heart and lung, lung, liver, or bone marrow transplant


  • Have been comatose for at least 30 days


  • Are dependent on a cardiopulmonary life-sustaining device.


At any point during claims processing, SSA employees may remove a TERI flag if they determine the disability does not meet the requirements for expedited processing. However, SSA employees are not permitted to remove a TERI flag due to the applicant’s failure to cooperate or any non-medical eligibility or entitlement factor.


Survivor’s Benefits


Terminal illnesses are often diagnosed only after they’ve progressed to the most advanced stages, and that explains why some terminally ill people die before ever receiving their first disability check. When that happens, the deceased’s surviving spouse and/or children (or the parents, if the deceased is a child), may be entitled to survivor’s benefits.


Getting Help With Benefits


Because of the complexity of applying for SSD and SSD survivor’s benefits, applicants (or the families of those with the disabling condition) may wish to seek the help of an experienced SSD attorney.


SSD attorneys know what claims examiners are looking for and the most common mistakes people make on applications that result in delayed processing or a rejection of their claim. For terminally ill people, quick processing is essential.


Occasionally, TERI flags are removed from applications at some point in the determination process. An SSD attorney can investigate why that occurred and help get clients back on track to get the benefits they need.