Compassionate Allowances initiative fast tracks most severe SSDI claims

The Social Security Administration is notorious for its slow-moving bureaucracy that processes disability benefit applications at what seems like a snail's pace. To its credit, the SSA has tried to decrease the amount of time an applicant, especially someone with disabilities applying for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income, has to wait for a final decision on his or her application.

Speeding up the process is crucial for a claimant who is sick or injured and unable to work. Getting monthly benefits sooner rather than later can mean the difference between keeping or losing a place to live or being able to pay for medication or food.

A newer SSA initiative that began in 2008 is the Compassionate Allowances program, or CAL for short, that focuses on expediting claims of people who are obviously going to meet the agency's definition of disability because their illnesses or injuries are extremely severe, often fatal.

The list of 200

CAL has developed a list of 200 disabling conditions after extensive outreach, including a series of public hearings that focused on particularly traumatic illnesses like cancer, brain injury, schizophrenia, early onset Alzheimer's disease, autoimmune diseases and more. SSA also reached out for input about which medical conditions should qualify for CAL treatment to other government agencies, nonprofit organizations and medical authorities.

While plans for more hearings are on hold, the SSA does plan to continue to add more conditions to the CAL list.

The process

CAL just makes sense. SSDI applications have many levels of review or appeal:

  • Application
  • Reconsideration
  • Administrative law judge hearing
  • Appeals Council
  • U.S. District Court
  • U.S. Court of Appeals
  • U.S Supreme Court (rarely)

It can take months if not years to pursue a claim through all of these appeal levels if the application is improperly denied at the beginning or if the case is a difficult one or a close call. By contrast, in a CAL case, the approval can be as fast as days or weeks.

When a person has a terrible medical problem that is so severe it can be the basis for an automatic approval, it is certainly more compassionate to expedite the processing.

Some claims require the gathering and development of extensive medical evidence, but in CAL claims, once solid, objective medical evidence of a diagnosis on the list is in the SSA's possession, the case can be immediately approved. A CAL application is not a separate or different one, but rather when the SSA identifies a CAL condition on a claim, the application is then fast tracked under the CAL program.

Legal counsel

A claimant can help to speed the process by telling the SSA that his or her condition is on the CAL list and providing clear, objective medical evidence with the application. Enlisting the assistance of an experienced SSDI attorney can also help with the speed and strength of the claim as a knowledgeable lawyer will know how to develop the medical record quickly and what medical evidence the SSA needs. When necessary, legal counsel can also represent a claimant on review or appeal.