Facts about Non Hodgkins Lymphoma and Filing for Disability
These selected pages answer some of the most basic, but also some of the most important, questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim for disability benefits.
Facts about the condition
1) There are two main types of lymphoma, which is a cancer that attacks the immune system and particularly occurs in the lymph nodes where infection fighting cells are produced. Hodgkin's is one single type of lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma encompasses a group of lymphoma conditions.
2) There are 16 types of lymphomas categorized under Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Overall, however, there are 43 different types listed separately, and not lumped into these two categories, by the World Health Organization. Yet Hodgkin's and Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are still generally used as the two basic categories when describing the cancer condition.
3) Symptoms of lymphoma could include persistently swollen lymph nodes, fever, fatigue, chest pain and breathing difficulties, and weight loss.
4) Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is caused when the white blood cells produced by your body do not die like they are supposed to, but your body continues to make more replacement cells. The buildup of these lymphocyte cells occurs in the lymph nodes and makes them swollen.
5) The condition comes from either B cells or T cells, although more commonly B cells. Treatment methods depend on which cells are causing the cancer.
6) Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma can spread outside of the lymph nodes to organs in the lymphatic system such as the tonsils, spleen and bone marrow.
7) Hodgkin's lymphoma is most common in early adulthood and again in older adulthood. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is much more rare in adults under the age of 60. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma also typically has a less successful cure rate than Hodgkin's.
8) Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma diagnosis involves classifying the type of lymphoma by looking what cells are involved and what they look like when examined.
9) After the type of lymphoma is determined, the patient is assigned a stage I - IV cancer condition based on how many tumors exist and how widely they are spread across the body.
10) Occasionally lymphoma is slow growing, with no signs or symptoms. In these cases, treatment does not usually occur until the cancer advances.
Qualifying for disability benefits with this condition
Whether or not you qualify for disability and, as a result, are approved for disability benefits will depend entirely on the information obtained from your medical records.
This includes whatever statements and treatment notes that may have been obtained from your treating physician (a doctor who has a history of treating your condition and is, therefore, qualified to comment as to your condition and prognosis). It also includes discharge summaries from hospital stays, reports of imaging studies (such as xrays, MRIs, and CT scans) and lab panels (i.e. bloodwork) as well as reports from physical therapy.
In many disability claims, it may also include the results of a report issued by an independent physician who examines you at the request of the Social Security Administration.
Qualifying for SSD or SSI benefits will also depend on the information obtained from your vocational, or work, history if you are an adult, or academic records if you are a minor-age child. In the case of adults, your work history information will allow a disability examiner (examiners make decisions at the initial claim and reconsideration appeal levels, but not at the hearing level where a judges decides the outcome of the case) to A) classify your past work, B) determine the physical and mental demands of your past work, C) decide if you can go back to a past job, and D) whether or not you have the ability to switch to some type of other work.
The important thing to keep in mind is that the social security administration does not award benefits based on simply having a condition, but, instead, will base an approval or denial on the extent to which a condition causes functional limitations. Functional limitations can be great enough to make work activity not possible (or, for a child, make it impossible to engage in age-appropriate activities).
Why are so many disability cases lost at the disability application and reconsideration appeal levels?
There are several reasons but here are just two:
1) Social Security makes no attempt to obtain a statement from a claimant's treating physician. By contrast, at the hearing level, a claimant's disability attorney or disability representative will generally obtain and present this type of statement to a judge.
Note: it is not enough for a doctor to simply state that their patient is disabled. To satisy Social Security's requirements, the physician must list in what ways and to what extent the individual is functionally limited. For this reason, many representatives and attorneys request that the physician fill out and sign a specialized medical source statement that captures the correct information. Solid Supporting statements from physicians easily make the difference between winning or losing a disability case at the hearing level.
2) Prior to the hearing level, a claimant will not have the opportunity to explain how their condition limits them, nor will their attorney or representative have the opportunity to make a presentation based on the evidence of the case. This is because at the initial levels of the disability system, a disability examiner decides the case without meeting the claimant. The examiner may contact the claimant to gather information on activities of daily living and with regard to medical treatment or past jobs, but usually nothing more. At the hearing level, however, presenting an argument for approval based on medical evidence that has been obtained and submitted is exactly what happens.
About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.
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