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“No matter how severe your leukemia is, your medical condition, by itself, will not qualify you for disability benefits.”

After getting diagnosed with leukemia, your first thoughts are probably about your health and your future with your family and friends. The disease and the anti-cancer treatments might make you too sick to work. Unfortunately, the bills keep coming, regardless of your illness. As you look around for ways to survive financially while you are in the medical fight of your life, you might be wondering, Can I get Social Security disability benefits for leukemia?

Most people might assume that having leukemia would be enough to make you eligible for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits. The reality is that getting SSDI benefits is not a simple or quick process. No matter how severe your leukemia is, your medical condition, by itself, will not qualify you for disability benefits. You will also have to satisfy these non-medical requirements:

  • You have enough work credits through your employment history.
  • You do not make more money than the earnings cap.
  • You cannot perform any type of work to support yourself.

You must pass every factor to qualify for SSDI benefits.

How Severe Your Leukemia Must Be for SSDI Benefits

The Social Security Administration (SSA) will review your medical records to see if your leukemia meets the requirements of the Adult Listing of Impairments, also called the Blue Book, for medical severity. If the SSA determines that your disease is not severe enough to warrant disability benefits, they will not proceed to evaluate the non-medical requirements.

The SSA will consider these forms of leukemia for SSDI benefits:

  • Acute leukemia. This category can include the accelerated or blast phase of chronic myelogenous (granulocytic) leukemia, based on a definitive bone marrow test.
  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) based on documented granulocytosis.
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia based on evidence of chronic lymphocytosis of at least 10,000/mm3 for at least three months.

If you have bone marrow or stem cell transplantation for your leukemia, the SSA can consider you disabled for at least 24 months after the date of diagnosis or relapse, or at least 12 months from the transplant date, whichever date is later, unless you have a chronic phase of CML. The SSA can consider you disabled until at least 12 months after the date of bone marrow or stem cell transplantation for chronic phase CML.

If your leukemia is not one of these forms, the SSA will evaluate whether your type of leukemia is of equal severity to one of the listings.

  • Work Credits Explained
    You must have enough work credits to qualify for SSDI. You can earn up to four work credits a year – one for every three-month period (quarter) that you worked a job that paid Social Security taxes. Younger workers don’t need as many work credits, because they have not had much time to accumulate the credits.
  • The SSDI Earnings Cap
    If you make more than $1,220 a month in 2019 ($2,040 if legally blind), the SSA will deny your application for SSDI benefits. Earning more than the limit tells the SSA that you can work enough to support yourself.
  • The Capacity to Work
    You must be unable to perform any type of gainful employment to qualify for disability benefits. Being unable to continue at your current or most recent job is not enough for the SSA.
  • Strap in for a Bumpy Ride
    Do not expect to get an SSDI check right away. The SSA denies most applications. You might have to go through one or more appeals to get your benefits.

You should talk with an elder law attorney near you about the ways that your state’s laws might differ from the general law of this article.


Mr. Amoruso concentrates his practice on Elder Law, Comprehensive Estate Planning, Asset Preservation, Estate Administration and Guardianship.