People who apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) must be disabled from working to qualify for benefits, among other eligibility requirements. The definition of disability for purposes of these programs is a severe medical impairment or combination of impairments that prevents the person from substantial gainful activity (SGA – meaning working at a level that is not trivial), expected to last at least one year or result in death.
This is a complex definition with several parts. It is commonly known that these applications can take months or even years to be approved and usually must go through more than one level of appeal or review. Sadly, sometimes seriously ill claimants pass away before the Social Security Administration (SSA) approves their benefits.
To help catastrophically ill people get their financial benefits faster, the SSA established the Compassionate Allowances program (CAL). After input from medical experts, government agencies, advocacy organizations and the public about often rare and always devastating diagnoses, the SSA created a list of conditions that the agency automatically concludes meets the definition of disability for eligibility purposes.
The agency periodically places additional diseases onto the CAL list. On Aug. 16, 2021, SSA announced 12 new CAL conditions:
- Nervous system disorders: Charlevoix Saguenay Spastic Ataxia (ARSACS), SCN8A Related Epilepsy with Encephalopathy
- Cancers: Choroid Plexus Carcinoma, CIC-rearranged Sarcoma, Pericardial Mesothelioma, Desmoplastic Mesothelioma, Refractory Hodgkin Lymphoma
- Viral disorders: Congenital Zika Syndrome
- Genetic conditions: Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (Adult), Renpenning Syndrome, SYNGAP1-related NSID, Taybi-Linder Syndrome
CAL conditions are often very rare diseases and have very serious symptoms often impacting the brain, nervous system, vision and other areas of core functioning. Many occur in children and cause developmental delays or intellectual impairment. (Children can be eligible for SSI, but not SSDI.)
SSA practice is to flag applications for people with CAL diagnoses for quicker processing and approval.