Colon and rectal cancer must be advanced, recurrent, treatment resistant, or terminal before the condition can “automatically” qualify for disability from the Social Security Administration (SSA).
When the disease is caught early or is more responsive to treatment, it can still sometimes qualify for benefits, although it must come with severe, long-term impairments, like those caused by complications from treatment, for example.
How Severe Are Your Limitations and Can You Still Work?
If you “automatically” qualify for benefits, then the SSA believes you cannot work given the severity of your illness.
If you don’t meet the standard definition of disability with colon and rectal cancer though, then the SSA will need to see that you can’t hold a job because you have severe physical limitations. These limitations may be due to cancer, cancer treatments, or long-term residual effects from either or both.
Complete surgical resection or removal of the colon and the use of a colostomy may have been necessary for successful treatment of your colon cancer. Physically taxing jobs may no longer be an option for you.
However, you must also be unable to hold an office or other sedentary job, in which case you’d need to experience other complications before the SSA could grant you benefits. Common residual effects of chemotherapy and radiation, like severe fatigue, susceptibility to frequent infections, or heart problems could stop you from working in an office position, for example.
Do You Medically Qualify Through the Blue Book or Otherwise?
Standard disability listings under which you can automatically qualify for benefits appear in the SSA’s Blue Book, and colon and rectal cancer are described in 13.18. If your cancer meets this listing, then you can receive benefits, though you’ll still need to back up your claim with medical documentation.
The results of one or more colonoscopies should appear in your medical records. Other evidence may include surgical notes and biopsy results. Lab work and other test results, showing liver or kidney function, for example, can also be helpful, since both your kidneys and liver can be affected by cancer or by radiation and/or chemotherapy treatments.
If you don’t meet the listing in 13.18, the SSA must take a closer look at your daily life and any impairments or limitations you experience. Additional medical records can definitely help, and so can test results showing impaired breathing capacity or compromised heart, liver, or kidney function. Reports from doctors describing fatigue levels, concentration issues, or memory problems can be useful as well.
What Does it Take to Apply?
Your doctor can help you decipher the SSA’s disability listing and the typical tests or other documentation that will be needed for your application. A disability attorney or advocate can assist too and you may want to consider contacting one early on in the initial stages of the process, especially if you don’t think you’ll automatically qualify for benefits. An attorney can increase your chances of approval, particularly if you must file an appeal following a denial.
The SSA asks for a lot of information on a disability claim, and not just access to your medical records. They will need your employment, education, and job training history, along with information on your finances and living situation. Many of these records can be gathered quickly by pulling together income tax returns, old pay stubs, and bank statements.