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Whether your disability from cancer is expected to be short- or long-term, it helps to know the differences between the two and understand how to apply for each type of disability benefit.

Short-Term Disability Due To Cancer

Short-term disability programs cover you if you need a brief medical leave from work, usually up to six months. Your employer typically holds your position for you during this period, since you expect to return to work. (Employers are able to fire employees who are out on disability, however, as long as the act of letting workers go isn't discriminatory.)

Short-term disability programs (STDs) are usually administered through your employer or home state or territory. (California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico currently have short-term disability programs.) They can also be purchased individually. Programs vary; your benefits will depend upon your specific plan. Generally, STD programs will cover up to 26 weeks away from work and pay between 55 and 100 percent of your wages. Some plans start immediately, while others have a waiting period before benefits start. Some pay at a higher percentage for the first several weeks or months before dropping to a lower percentage, based on your length of employment.

Since procedures and policies differ from plan to plan, you'll need to get acquainted with the particulars of yours, including the type of paperwork you'll need to complete, buzz words to include on forms to ensure that you get benefits and relevant filing deadlines. Look for program details on your state's Department of Labor website. (Find the link at http://www.dol.gov/dol/location.htm.) To see if your employer offers a plan, contact your human resources or employee benefits office.

Long-Term Disability Due To Cancer

Long-term disability plans are administered by the federal government, offered by employers as part of employee benefits packages or sold by insurance companies to individuals. In the eyes of the government, which administers Social Security disability benefits, a long-term disability is an illness or injury that's expected to last 12 months or longer, or it's predicted to be terminal. To find out how to apply for long-term disability, visit http://ssa.gov/disability/ or contact your human resources or employee benefits office.

The Social Security Administration recommends that you apply for disability benefits as soon as you become disabled, because the process can take several months. To qualify, you'll need to have worked and contributed to Social Security through past paychecks for a certain number of years, which is based upon your age.

To get long-term disability benefits, government officials will ask the “Big 5” questions:

  • Are you  working? If you are and you make over a certain dollar amount per month, you generally can't be considered disabled.
  • Is your condition “severe”?
  • Is it found on the List of Impairments, which the government maintains?
  • Can you do the same work that you did previously? If so, your claim will likely be denied.
  • Can you do other types of work? If you can, your claim will likely be denied.

Take advantage of help along the way.

Figuring out benefits and programs can be confusing, especially when some may seem to overlap. Take advantage of a host of resources to help. Among them:

  • To get up to speed on Social Security disability benefits, see an online booklet published by the Social Security Administration at http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10029.html. Included is information on who is eligible, how to apply, what you need to know when the benefits begin.
  • For straightforward answers to some of the many questions that come up during the disability claims process see http://www.disabilitysecrets.com/questions.html
  • If you have cancer-related legal questions, enlist the help of the Cancer Legal Resource Center, a joint program of the Western Law Center for Disability Rights and Loyola Law School. Find it at http://www.cancerlegalresourcecenter.org.
  • Some cancer centers and hospitals may offer programs to help you decipher disability programs. Call the cancer center or hospital operator to inquire, or ask your oncologist.