Between conditions on the compassionate allowances list and another program called quick disability determination — which applies to conditions like certain kinds of cancer — Social Security officials say they expect to expedite nearly 5 percent of disability claims this year.
Astrue hopes to see that number rise to somewhere between 6 and 9 percent in the next couple of years.
Making a big difference
The changes have the potential for real improvement, say people who have been through the non-expedited process.
For Marilyn Beiser, 59, it took five months to receive approval for disability benefits after she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease in 2009. The condition was added to the compassionate allowances list just a short time later in 2010.
The long wait for benefits created a mountain of stress for Beiser, who had struggled for years to keep jobs as symptoms slowly crippled her ability to function in a workplace. The result: Beiser could no longer work, but desperately needed income to pay her bills.
So perilous was Beiser's financial situation that she moved in with her daughter's family in Hatboro, Pa., while she waited for Social Security.
"My stomach was always in knots," says Beiser, who worried that she wouldn't be approved at all.
But finally receiving Social Security benefits made all the difference.
"I was able to breathe again," she says. "If I want to stop at McDonald's for an ice cream cone, I can."
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Michelle Diament is a freelance writer based in Memphis.