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SSA compassionate allowances help when time is of the essence

There are two things about Social Security Disability benefits that applicants should understand. The first is that it can be a long process. The second is that it may not have to be.

The statistics are familiar to many who have been in the system already. In the Harrisburg office, an application takes an average of more than 400 days to process — the first time. That means it can take about 14 months to find out if your initial application was accepted. It takes even longer if there is an appeal — and there usually is, considering that only 44 percent of claims are accepted the first time through.

The process may take weeks instead of months (or years) if the applicant’s disability is included on the Social Security Administration’s “compassionate allowance” list. The CAL list is a long list of conditions and diseases that obviously meet the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability.

Many of the conditions are terminal illnesses or degenerative diseases. For example, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease — manifests itself in any number of ways. Sometimes, ALS is accompanied by dementia. Sometimes the patient loses the use of his or her limbs but can still talk. What is true for all ALS patients, though, is that their conditions will worsen and their conditions are all terminal. It may take months or years, but these people are not going to get better.

Remember, though, that what may look obvious to us may not be considered obvious by the Social Security Administration. For those of us who remember the 1980s, it comes as a bit of a surprise (and a little relief) that HIV/AIDS is not on the CAL list.

The SSA does not randomly decide what goes on the CAL list. The administration relies on medical experts from its own ranks and from outside and works with researchers to identify emerging trends. The decision is based on objective medical information, and the list is updated annually.


Social Security Administration, “Compassionate Allowances,” accessed online on July 11, 2014

SSDFacts.com, “Statistics and Facts by State: Pennsylvania,” accessed online July 22, 2014

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