ERISA & Social Security Disability: Southern California Lawyers
Disability Benefits for Cancer
The term “cancer” is used here for convenience, recognizing that there are many different types of cancers, including solid tumors (like lung and breast) and blood cancers (like leukemia). They have different treatments and prognosis, but with respect to qualifying for disability benefits, there are some common principles.
It's Not Enough to Have a Cancer Diagnosis
With some exceptions, which we will deal with later, just having a diagnosis of “cancer” in your medical records will not automatically qualify you for disability benefits. Your medical records must also show how the symptoms you have from your cancer (or side effects from chemotherapy or radiation) cause you to have functional impairments that restrict your ability to work.
Adequately Document Your Disability.
Doctors are trained to document a patient's diagnosis, treatment, symptoms, side effects from treatments, laboratory findings, and the findings of x-ray, MRI, and CT scans. You can assume, if you are being treated by a competent doctor, that this kind of “medical” information will be documented thoroughly in your medical file.
A doctor's progress notes should explain why a patient is disabled and what specific things a patient can and cannot do, not just state in a conclusory manner that a patient is disabled.
For example, statements like “my patient is not capable of performing any useful work,” or “my patient is completely disabled from any gainful employment,” are conclusory, because they don't explain why. They reach a conclusion (my patient is disabled) without providing or explaining why their patient is disabled.
This is where being a pro-active patient is important. When you see the doctor, you can help fill-in the why– Tell your doctor, for example, that you have such bad fatigue and tiredness (from your cancer or your chemotherapy) that the most you can sit in an 8-hour day is _____or what physical activities cause you to become tired and fatigued.
Tell your doctor you are seeking disability benefits and explain during your office or clinic visit the specific things (e.g., walking, standing, sitting, lifting, carrying) you can and cannot do. Ask the doctor or nurse to enter that information into your medical records. Do it each time you see the doctor.