What is the definition of disability?

Disability under Social Security is based on a person's inability to work. We consider individuals disabled under Social Security rules if:

  • They cannot do work they did before;
  • We decide that they cannot adjust to other work because of their medical condition(s); and
  • Their disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

This is a strict definition of disability. Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or short-term disability.

What is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

SSDI provides benefits to disabled or blind persons who are "insured" by the workers' contributions to the Social Security trust fund. These contributions are based on the workers' earnings (or those of your spouse or parents) as required by the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA). Title II of the Social Security Act authorizes SSDI benefits. Your dependents may also be eligible for benefits from your earnings record..

What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

The SSI program makes payments to those age 65 or older, blind, or disabled persons (including children) who have limited income and resources. Even though Social Security manages the program, SSI is not paid for by Social Security taxes. SSI is paid for by U.S. Treasury general funds, not the Social Security trust funds. Many states pay a supplemental benefit to persons in addition to their Federal benefits. Some of these states have made arrangements with us to combine their supplemental payment with our Federal SSI payment into one monthly check to you. Other states manage their own programs and make their payments separately. Title XVI of the Social Security Act authorizes SSI benefits.

What is the Compassionate Allowances Initiative?

The Compassionate Allowances (CAL) initiative is a way to expedite the processing of SSDI and SSI disability claims for applicants whose medical conditions are so severe that their conditions obviously meet Social Security's definition of disability. It is not a separate program from SSA's two disability programs, SSDI and SSI.

How do you add conditions to the CAL list?

CAL conditions are developed as a result of information received from the public, outreach to advocacy groups, comments received from the Social Security and Disability Determination Service communities, counsel from medical and scientific experts, research with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and information received from past public outreach hearings. The Social Security Administration considers which conditions are most likely to meet our definition of disability.

Are you planning to add more CAL conditions?

Yes, we plan to add new conditions on an annual basis to the CAL list. Our team works with both internal and external medical experts, National Institute of Health (NIH), and many others to identify and research potential CAL conditions.

How does a person with a CAL condition apply for disability?

There is no special application or form that is unique to the CAL initiative. Individuals with a CAL condition apply for benefits using the standard SSA process for filing claims for SSDI, SSI, or both SSDI and SSI benefits. SSA will expedite the applications of those with a CAL condition. Applications for disability may be filed online, in the local field office, or by calling our toll-free number 1-800-772-1213. To learn how to apply for disability benefits please click How You Apply.

How long does it take SSA to make a decision on a claim for individuals with CAL conditions?

Individuals with CAL conditions may receive a decision on their claim in a matter of weeks instead of months or years.

It can vary depending on several factors, but primarily on:

  • How quickly we obtain medical evidence from a doctor or other medical source;
  • Whether a medical examination is necessary in order to obtain evidence to support the claim; and
  • If the claim is randomly selected for quality assurance review of the decision.

For more information about the application process, SSA has a disability planner available at www.socialsecurity.gov/dibplan.

If you have further questions, you may call our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 or TTY 1-800-325-0778. Our representatives will be happy to assist you.

What else have you done to help people with CAL conditions?

As of July 30, 2011, we have reduced the paperwork burden for applicants with CAL conditions by eliminating the work and education history questions from the application. We recognize that this information is often not needed to make a decision on disability claims for individuals with CAL conditions due to the severity of conditions.

Will a person receive additional money because they have a Compassionate Allowances condition?

Unfortunately, being diagnosed with a CAL condition does not provide additional money above what an individual is eligible for under the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability programs. CAL simply speeds up the receipt of a decision on the claim.

What are some other ways you are working to ensure that SSA's disability standards are in line with current medical and scientific practice?

We update our Listings more frequently and meet regularly with disease groups to explore how we can work together to improve claimant experience with the disability application process. In addition, we are working with researchers at NIH to identify medical "tipping points" which can pinpoint when impairments become severe enough to meet our standards.

Can you give more information on CAL outreach?

We have held seven CAL public outreach hearings. The hearing topics were (1) rare diseases, (2) cancers, (3) traumatic brain injury and stroke, (4) early onset Alzheimer 's Disease and related dementias, (5) schizophrenia (with focus on homelessness), (6) cardiovascular disease and multiple organ transplants, and (7) autoimmune diseases. Due to budget restraints, we are not planning to hold any new hearings in the near future. However, we continue to reach out to advocacy groups and others via teleconferences and webinars. We also provide assistance to advocacy groups that request information to create their own frequently asked questions. We will continue to work with advocacy groups to educate and inform the public about the Compassionate Allowances initiative.

Will SSA notify an applicant if his/her claim is selected for fast-tracked processing?

No, SSA does not notify applicants if their claim is selected for fast-tracked processing. Rather, SSA may notify applicants if we need additional medical evidence and/or once we have made a final decision on the applicant's claim.

Contact the Compassionate Allowances Team