The "Hotel Melanoma" moniker is a metaphor for living with my particular brand of cancer. Except for those lucky few of us deemed "cured", all we cancer survivors are guests of one of the many, many branded hotels in the "Hotel Carcinoma" chain. We can check out any time we like, but we can never leave. Meanwhile, let's be livin' it up; and please support cancer education, prevention, and treatment research.

Tutu Brothers

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Melanoma Disability Benefits 101

Author’s Note: Every so often I take a run at providing some information in this blog that might actually be useful for my melahomies, and today is one of those days. I was contacted a few days ago by Molly Clarke with Social Disability Benefits Help, who offered to write an article about Social Security disability benefits for people with melanoma. She’s written the following very informative piece that is specific to melanoma patients…

Social Security Disability and Melanoma

After you have been diagnosed with melanoma, your life will undergo various changes. Your time and energy will be spent discussing treatment options, visiting specialists, and focusing on recovery. Symptoms and side effects may even force you to take time away from work. The resulting expenses and loss of income may cause a significant financial burden.

If you find that after being diagnosed with melanoma, you can no longer work or earn a living, you may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits. The following article will provide you with a general overview of the Social Security Disability program and will prepare you to begin the application process.

Medical Eligibility Criteria

SSD benefits are governed and distributed by the Social Security Administration (SSA). The SSA has very strict medical and technical criteria put in place to determine an applicant’s eligibility.

When evaluating your claim, the SSA will first assess the severity of your melanoma by consulting the official guide of disabling conditions known as the blue book. The blue book contains listings of potentially disabling conditions and the specific medical criteria that an individual must meet in order to qualify. Melanoma appears in the SSA’s blue book under Section 13.03 B. To meet this listing, you must be able to provide medical evidence that proves the following:

• Your melanoma returned after surgical removal of the original lesion and the surrounding tissue


• Your melanoma has spread to other locations, in at least one of the following scenarios:

1. documented metastases in one or more lymph nodes
2. metastases in four or more lymph nodes, if the presence of tumors cannot be clinically documented through obvious methods; or
3. skin metastases in adjacent or distant sites from the location of the original lesion

If you do not meet these specific criteria, you may still qualify for SSD benefits. If the SSA finds that your condition is equal in severity to another condition listed in the blue book, your application may be approved.

If you do not match or equal another condition, the SSA will then review your residual functional capacity to see if you qualify under what is known as a medical vocational allowance. Essentially, this means that the SSA will evaluate the severity of your limitations and, if they decide that melanoma keeps you from working, they will award you benefits even though you do not meet a blue book listing.

Technical Requirements for Disability Benefits

The SSA runs two separate programs that provide financial assistance to disabled individuals—SSDI and SSI. Each of these two programs has technical eligibility requirements that applicants must meet in addition to the previously mentioned medical requirements.

• SSDI is funded by the FICA taxes that workers throughout the country pay into the system. Therefore, eligibility for SSDI is determined by an applicant’s employment and tax history. To make it simpler, the SSA assigns a certain number of “work credits” to each quarter that an individual earns income and pays taxes. To qualify for SSDI, applicants must have earned a certain amount of work credits. Learn more about work credits and SSDI, here:

• SSI is a needs-based program that offers benefits to disabled and elderly individuals. This means that eligibility is determined by a person’s financial needs rather than their work experience. To qualify for SSI, an applicant cannot exceed very specific financial limitations. SSI is often a good fit for people who have very little income and who have not earned enough work credits to qualify for SSDI.

In some cases, individuals with limited work credits and very low income can qualify for both SSDI and SSI. It is also important to note that, while neither SSI nor SSDI are health insurance programs, there are health care options that accompany both programs. After a two year waiting period, individuals who qualify for SSDI may become eligible for Medicare and individuals who qualify for SSI automatically qualify for Medicaid. Learn more about Medicare and Medicaid, here:

Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits

The SSD application process can be long and complicated. In fact, many initial applications are denied. To prevent this from happening to you, it is important that you collect thorough medical and financial documentation to support your claim. The SSA will view this documentation as proof of your disability. Any missing or incomplete records can compromise your claim and cause you to be denied. Documentation should include records of the following:

• Your diagnosis
• Relevant lab results and medical imaging
• History of hospitalizations
• Treatments and response to treatments
• Official statements from your doctor regarding your symptoms and ability to work

Once you are ready to begin the application process, you can do so online at the SSA’s website or in person at your local Social Security office. It is important to remember that once you submit your application, it may be several months before you receive a decision. If your initial application is denied, it is important that you don’t give up. You have the right to appeal this decision. If you are prepared and persistent in your efforts, you will be able to receive the financial assistance you need.

For more information about applying for SSD benefits, visit Social Security Disability Help on Facebook or contact Molly Clarke at Social Security Disability Help


But you just knew that I’d have to write some fractured lyrics too. To the tune of The Band’s “The Shape I’m In”…

Go out yonder, treat C and rally
Mole docs frown, have to wonder 'bout the tally
Oh, you don't know the shape I'm in

Can anybody treat my Ray C?
This skinnin' of moles will drive me crazy
Oh, you don't know the shape I'm in

I'm gonna go down to the doc - tor
But I ain't gonna pump him, no, no
I'll just be looking for my fate here
And I'll hear 'bout place where C's been! Oh!

Out of nine lives, I've spent seven
Now, how in the world do you do the bread win?
Oh, you don't know the shape I'm in

I just spent 60 days in the jailhouse
For the crime of having no dough
Now here I am back out on the street
For the crime of having nowhere to go

Pay your rent or pay your druggers
Looks like it's one or the other
Oh, you don't know the shape I'm in

Now too sunned skin hide starts a ruckus
You know rays peel you, dying too young sucks
Oh, you don't know the shape I'm in


  1. This is really helpful, Rich. It’s true that being diagnosed with melanoma, or any kind of clinical disease, can be life-changing. Most especially when it keeps you from going back to work or doing your everyday thing. That’s why applying for SSDI is really a great help, because it can back you up if you need some financial assistance.

    Jason Hayes @ DECORM

  2. Thanks for this thorough breakdown between SSDI and SSI, and where a person with a disease such as melanoma can fit into the picture. Ultimately, these benefits should be guaranteed for those with such conditions, and that an employee is allowed to be in a position to acquire them. It would be a shame if people were disqualified due to technicalities, depriving them of the much-needed support.

    Tyron Tanaka @ Low And Canata

  3. Excellent work on gathering this info, Rich! Melanoma can be incapacitating, so those who suffer from the condition can sure use these disability benefits. Thank you for this coherent guide, and I hope it makes the lives of Melanoma patients a bit easier.

    Brad Post @ Jan Dils