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Bill would expedite disability benefits for terminally ill

A terminal illness produces one of the most difficult and stressful experiences that a person can encounter in life. The physical pain and emotional trauma from the illness can make it significantly more difficult for the person to continue working his or her job or effectively manage their activities of daily living. As a result, many people in this situation turn to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits to help them with their day-to-day expenses and medical bills.

Unfortunately, under current law, SSDI benefits do not always help those individuals whose terminal illness gives them a short life expectancy. Under existing law, even individuals who receive a short prognoses for progression still have to wait five months before they may start receiving SSDI benefits. As a result, many terminally ill individuals get discouraged from seeking benefits promised under the Social Security Act.

There is hope on the horizon. Three senators introduced a bill that would help expedite the payment of SSDI benefits to individuals with certain terminal illnesses. Under the proposed Expedited Disability Insurance Payments for Terminally Ill Individuals Act of 2013, those who have a medical condition that causes them to have a life expectancy of six months or less would be allowed to start receiving benefits within the first month of diagnosis.

Those who qualify for expedited benefits under the bill would receive half their monthly benefits the first full month after diagnosis, three-quarters of their monthly benefits the second month and full benefits for each month after that for up to a year.

The proposed legislation does have some qualifications on the benefits. In order to curb fraud and abuse, two separate not in the same practice group must diagnose the terminal illness. If the terminally ill individual lives longer than one year after receiving benefits, the Social Security Administration will recover those advance early benefits paid during the otherwise ineligible five-month waiting period. Finally, any terminally ill individual who lives to collect benefits for three years or longer after his or her diagnosis would only receive 95 percent of the regular benefit amount.

The proviso for reduced benefits in the case of medical science or the afflicted person “beating” the odds seems draconian and unwise policy. The federal government should never put the will to live behind the concerns of the income stream. Once the Social Security trust fund recovers the advanced five months, no further penalty should attach.

An attorney can help

The proposed bill is still in committee. If it passes, it would significantly help to defray the living and medical expense of those in the last months of their lives. Even if the bill does not pass, there are several other ways to receive expedited benefits, such as compassionate allowances or the Quick Disability Determinations program.

As with many timesaving options, it remains important for those seeking SSDI benefits to contact an experienced disability attorney. An attorney can advise you or your loved ones and work to ensure that you receive your benefits as quickly as possible.