The Social Security Administration has an important but little known program for people diagnosed with severe and life-threatening medical conditions that allows “quick starts" of monthly disability benefits. It can be a huge help to caregivers and their loved ones who are dealing with these conditions. 

Social Security's Compassionate Care Allowance (CAL) program, which began in October 2008, flags individuals with rare and fatal diseases eligible for disability payments. This includes many kinds of cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, early onset Alzheimer's and rarer conditions such Angelman Syndrome, Degos Disease or Maple Syrup Urine Disease.

The program cuts the red tape for caregivers and their patients, providing a step-by-step plan so applicants can start receiving their benefits within two to three weeks after they apply. The normal wait for approval of a disability claim is usually months or even a year. It is designed for applicants whose medical conditions are so severe and ultimately fatal that their conditions obviously meet Social Security's definition of disability and can receive benefits quickly instead of stuck in the backlog of applicants.

There are currently 225 conditions on the Compassionate Allowance list, and in 2017, Social Security expedited disability benefits for 68,827 people.

How to Get Your Benefit through Compassionate Allowance

How to apply

There's no special application or form to apply for compassionate care benefits. One must simply fill out an application for Social Security Disability Insurance. Then, the SSA will automatically expedite the applications of those with a listed condition. Applications for disability may be filed online, in the local field office, or by calling this toll-free number: 1-800-772-1213.

How long does it take to get benefits?

Individuals with compassionate care conditions may receive a decision on their claim in a matter of weeks. The quickest approvals are made for pancreatic cancer, acute leukemia and ALS.

The timing can vary depending on several factors, but primarily on how quickly medical evidence is received from a doctor or other medical source; whether a medical examination is necessary in order to obtain evidence to support the claim; and if the claim is randomly selected for quality assurance review of the decision.

If your or your loved one's illness is not on the list, SSA will determine if its severity is equal to those designated conditions to qualify for quick approval.

What factors does SSA take in determining your eligibility?

Your condition must interfere with basic work-related activities for your claim to be considered. If it does not, SSA will find that you are not disabled.

What does my doctor have to do?

It's likely there will be more than one doctor involved, so each physician must fill out the form explaining your condition and why you are eligible. X-rays, MRIs and other lab tests must be filed with the application.

Is there discrimination against people with terminal illnesses?

To the contrary, this program is designed to help people with severe illnesses quickly get the benefit.

Can I still work and claim a compassionate care allowance?

You can earn only up to $1,130 a month while remaining eligible.

Will I be getting a bigger check if I qualify for Compassionate Care Allowance, compared to going through the normal SSDI application process?

No. Being diagnosed with a compassionate care condition does not give you a bigger benefit. You will receive the same monthly amount you would be eligible for under Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability programs. Your application will simply be fast-tracked for approval.