Social Security Disability Insurance: Compassionate Allowances program

The federal Social Security Administration has created a successful program in response to long-time criticism that the agency processes applications for Social Security Disability Insurance or SSDI too slowly, especially considering how sick, injured and financially challenged an applicant is likely to be.

Compassionate Allowances

Basically, the Compassionate Allowances program, also called CAL for short, recognizes that some diseases or injuries are so intrinsically severe that anyone who has one of them should be automatically found disabled for SSDI (or SSI) purposes. There is not a special CAL application; rather, an SSDI application that documents a CAL condition with objective medical evidence will be immediately fast tracked, bypassing some processing steps that other applications need to go.

Reportedly, a CAL application may be processed in days or weeks, whereas a non-CAL application can take several weeks or months, even longer in some cases.

CAL impairments

The SSA has created a list of 200 medical conditions, any one of which is considered automatically severe enough under the CAL program to meet the SSDI definition of disability. So an applicant with a diagnosis on this list will get benefits so long as all other eligibility criteria are met, and the application now classified as CAL will be processed much more quickly than normal in recognition of the need of such an individual to receive his or her benefits as soon as possible.

To make decisions about which conditions should be classified as CAL, the SSA held a series of public hearings that focused on certain types of impairments: cancers, dementias, brain injuries and stroke, rare diseases, heart diseases and multiple organ transplants, schizophrenia and autoimmune diseases. In addition, the agency reached out for input from other government bodies like the National Institutes of Health; to nonprofit organizations; and to the medical community.

While most of the CAL conditions are rare and unknown to many people, some are more commonly understood such as acute leukemia; early-onset Alzheimer's disease; esophageal, liver, pancreatic, thyroid or gallbladder cancer; inflammatory breast cancer or IBC; malignant multiple sclerosis; and Rett syndrome, to name just a few.

Get legal counsel

If you or a loved one is applying for SSDI, discuss your case with an experienced SSDI attorney, who can help with the application and see that the necessary medical evidence is gathered and submitted to the SSA to support the claim. If you or your family member's disability is potentially a CAL condition, quickly and adequately developing the medical record can help get the application into CAL fast-track status.

In addition, even if you did not involve legal counsel from the beginning, a knowledgeable public benefits lawyer can assist with an appeal at any stage of the process.