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What medical conditions make someone eligible for a fast-track decision on Social Security disability benefits?

There are hundreds of illnesses and disorders, as well as certain medical and personal circumstances, that may qualify you for expedited processing of a claim for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). There are also procedures for fast-tracking applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a benefit program for low-income people who are disabled, blind, or 65 and older that is administered (but not funded) by the Social Security Administration.

Social Security’s Compassionate Allowances (CAL) program maintains a list of conditions — numbering 254 as of August 2021 — that can shorten the processing time for SSDI claims from months to a matter of days. (This still may not result in immediate payments upon approval — see below.) The roster includes fast-moving cancers, immune-system and neurodegenerative diseases, rare genetic disorders and other illnesses that by definition meet Social Security’s standard for disability: They prevent sufferers from working or are likely to result in death. 

You do not have to apply specially for a compassionate allowance (or for any form of expedited review). Social Security uses a software system to identify applications that cite impairments on the CAL list. Whether you qualify for a quick decision depends on your diagnosis and its severity­. More than 700,000 people have received accelerated approval through the program, according to the Social Security Administration. 

Social Security uses another electronic system, Quick Disability Determination (QDD), to screen applications for disability benefits or SSI that are filed online. QDD scans for key words and phrases that indicate a claim is highly likely to be approved, and it checks that the application includes all required documentation. These cases are marked for quicker processing. Applications that are not filed electronically are reviewed by claims examiners, who can also flag them for fast-track status.

Social Security has several other programs and procedures to speed up particular disability claims:

  • Applications that indicate the claimant’s condition has reached a terminal stage can be moved to the front of the line. Certain situations — for example, a metastasized cancer, or a patient in hospice care — trigger automatic fast-tracking. 
  • Circumstances that don’t involve specific diseases or terminal conditions can also merit expedited processing: a low-birth-weight infant, for instance, or a disability claimant in imminent danger of becoming homeless. 
  • If you are an SSI applicant with one of about 15 severe physical or intellectual impairments — among them amputation, Down syndrome, total blindness or deafness, and HIV/AIDS — Social Security may find you have a “presumptive disability.” This qualifies you for up to six months of benefits while your claim wends its way through the lengthy review process.
  • Social Security can expedite SSDI and SSI claims for veterans who became disabled while on active duty. The disability need not have occurred in the course of military action — for example, it could be the result of an injury while on leave — but it must have occurred since Oct. 1, 2001. Be sure to notify Social Security at the start of the application process that the condition stems from your period of service.

Keep in mind

  • All SSDI claims are subject to a waiting period for benefits. The earliest payments can start is five months from the date that Social Security determines your disability began, based on the medical evidence you provide. This is the case even if your application is fast-tracked and approved during those months. There is no such waiting period for SSI payments.
  • If you have a condition that is not already approved for expedited status under the CAL program, you can ask Social Security to consider it for inclusion.

Updated August 16, 2021

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