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Leukemia and Social Security Disability Benefits

By: Pitt Dickey - Attorney

Preface: Since Social Security Disability is directed under Federal law, the information in this column will apply anywhere in the United States.  However each Office of Hearings and Appeals and District Office have their own ways of doing things as does the various Federal District and Circuit Courts.   I have kept this column primarily dealing the the mechanics of how the Social Security District Offices and Office of Hearings and Appeals evaluates disability claims. 
- Pitt Dickey


This column will look at how the Social Security Administration evaluates disability claims for people who have leukemia. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has certain guidelines that it applies to determine if a disabled worker qualifies for monthly disability insurance payments. In order to make it easier to understand how the SSA evaluates claims involving leukemia it is useful to review the terminology regarding leukemia and briefly review the types of leukemia.

For a disabled worker to receive Social Security Disability benefits he must be able to show the SSA that he has a medical condition that can be expected to last at least twelve months and that the condition prevents him from being unable to perform not only his former type of work but any other type of job that exists in substantial numbers in the American economy.

The first step in obtaining SSA disability benefits is to apply for them at any local Social Security Administration Office. To expedite this process, an applicant should take to the SSA office a list of the names and addresses of his treating physicians, dates of treatment and any hospitalizations. He should also make a list of his former employers for the last fifteen years.

Leukemia

Leukemia is a disease that effects white blood cells. The term comes from the word leuk which means white and the suffix emia which means a blood condition. Leukemia is a condition in which the body produces too many white blood cells. 

The body produces white blood cells in bone marrow. Leukemia is a form of cancer in which the bone marrow produces malignant white blood cells which overwhelm the marrow itself and the blood stream. White blood cells are call leukocytes. There are different types of leukemia depending on the type of white blood cell that is affected.

A condition is called acute leukemia when the body produced too many immature white blood cells. Chronic leukemia is when the body produces too many mature white blood cells. There are four forms of leukemia which are described below:

Acute lymphocytic leukemia This condition occurs when the body produces too many immature lymphocytes. This type of leukemia tends to come on suddenly and primarily effects children and teenagers.

Acute myleogenous leukemia This condition occurs in the bone marrow when the body produces too many immature bone marrow cells. The body cannot produce the normal number of platelets and red blood cells in the bone marrow because the body produces too many immature bone marrow cells instead.

Chronic myleogenous leukemia The body has too many mature and immature white blood cells both the bone marrow and the blood stream. This is a slowly developing disease which a patient may have for many years.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia The body produces too many mature lymphocytes (lymph cells). This type of leukemia tends to develop in older people and develops slowly.

The treatment for leukemia typically involves chemotherapy. The object of the chemotherapy is to prevent the cells from dividing as rapidly and to attack the malignant cells. Patients may also undergo bone marrow transplants to remove their own bone marrow that is producing the excessive cells and replace it with normal bone marrow that will produce a normal number of cells. 

If the treatments are successful and the excessive cell production ceases, then the patient is said to be in remission. If after a period of remission the excessive cell production resumes in the bone marrow or the blood stream the patient is said to have suffered a relapse.

The SSA has the following listings to evaluate the types of leukemia:

1. Acute Leukemia: The patient is considered to be disabled for 2 Ĺ years from the date that the acute leukemia is first diagnosed. After that period the SSA will review the patientís condition to determine if he is still disabled.

2. Chronic Leukemia: The patient is reviewed under the listings for other blood related diseases to include the following standards:

a. Persistent hematocrit (red blood cell count) at 30% or less of the expected amount plus one or more blood transfusions on an average of at least every two months; or

b. chronic thrombocytopenia (clotting cell count) with platelet count of less than 40,000 per cubic mm with at least one spontaneous hemorrhage requiring a transfusion within 5 months of the adjudication, or bleeding within the skull within 12 months of the adjudication; or

c. medically documented systemic bacterial infection s occurring at least 3 times during the 5 months prior to adjudication; or aplastic anemia or blood related malignancies with bone marrow transplant; or

d. Hodgkins disease or non-Hodgkins lymphoma that is not controlled by treatment.

It should be kept in mind that a person can still be found to be disabled by an Administrative Law Judge even if he does not meet a particular listing if he has health problems that in combination are the equivalent of a listing. 

The Judge has the discretion to decide if a personís health problems are serious enough to warrant an award of disability benefits despite not meeting the specific technical requirements of one of the SSA listings for disability.

Pitt Dickey has practiced law in Fayetteville since 1978. He has handled SSA disability claims for over twenty years. He practices with the firm of Smith, Dickey, Smith, Hasty & Dempster, P.A. at 555 Executive Place and can be reached at 910-485-8020 or at pitt@smithdickey.com . Or at the firm web site of www.smithdickey.com .

Copyright © 2002 Pitt Dickey - Used with permission

 

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