Can You Acquire Disability Benefits When You Have Breast Cancer?

The coronavirus pandemic has made most of our lives more complicated. For some of us that means juggling work with the kids, who are home from school. For some that means being out of a job and having few prospects for finding new work. For others that means dealing with the pressures of already having a long-term illness or disease — like breast cancer — and knowing that you could come down with coronavirus, or, in the worst case scenario this autumn: the flu and COVID-19 together. 

That’s why many of our readers have inquired about the potential for disability benefits under certain circumstances. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the United States, which means there is no better time to answer these questions.

Breast cancer survival rates have gotten much more promising in the last decade. Also, victims of breast cancer are spending less time out of work — but that also means fewer options for disability benefits. When you can work, you should work. But if working hurts you or makes it more likely for the cancerous cells to spread out of control, then of course you should do everything in your power to fight back, rest, and recuperate before worrying about your job. You can’t lose your job because you’re sick.

Why should you strive to work when you can? Senior Leave and Disability Consultant for Unum, Mandy Stogner, said, “Work often provides a sense of normalcy and support for employees of breast cancer during a time of uncertainty. This is why the role of employers is so important during diagnosis, treatment, and return to work.”

Depression should be staved off for as long as possible, and work can help. Disability benefits should only be a last resort. When working is no longer an option, those benefits are available — but timing is everything because those benefits are notorious for long lines.

HR Manager for Rapid API, Sophie Summers, said, “In the initial stage of breast cancer, you have to cross more miles to get disability benefits. Those suffering from stage 3 or above are more likely to medically qualify, but there are still ways to get some benefits, such as coverage of medications.”

Liz Supinksi, Data Science Director for the Society for Human Resource Management, described the process to qualify for disability: “…Most people who are able to qualify for disability benefits are not working for others. Self-employment is common enough among both disabled workers and those with disabilities severe enough to qualify for benefits.”

Doctors can help you determine when to start or stop work, which can impact when and how your benefits are acquired. 

Attorney Stephanie Fajuri for the Cancer Legal Resource Center in Los Angeles said, “In some circumstances, the doctor will say, ‘She’s doing great, she has less pain.’ While those are certainly positive things for the patient, in the context of a disability application, it does not look good.”

She added, “Make sure the doctor not only supports your disability [application], but that medical records support it.”