Diane Braunstein and the Compassionate Allowances Program

Submitted by Shane on

As difficult as it still is to be approved for Social Security Disability benefits in a timely manner, there is no doubt the SSA has dramatically improved its efficiency at processing SSDI claims since the implementation of Compassionate Allowances in 2007.

The Compassionate Allowances program, instituted by the SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue and headed by Diane Braunstein, was an initiative to tackle the problem of thousands of back-logged cases in the SSDI system, many of which had been waiting for up to two years to receive a determination or a hearing.

Astrue had met Braunstein while they were working together in the Department of Health and Human Services about 20 years earlier, and been personally impressed when she helped him quickly navigate the SSDI application process on behalf of his father, who was suffering from a rare cancer.

After doing extensive research through public hearings, they designated about 50 illnesses and diseases which would receive expedited processing for disability benefits because of their extreme and immediate needs. Since the initial group of illnesses were announced, additional hearings have been held in subsequent years and the number has grown to 100. These illnesses which are mostly rare, hard to treat, and have high mortality rates, are listed on the Social Security Administration’s website.

The SSA uses all its resources to push these cases more quickly through the system based on the medical research they have established for these diseases which requires less medical documentation to be provided in order to establish qualification for benefits.

Last year alone, over 45,000 cases were pushed through the system more quickly because of Compassionate Allowances, with an additional 20,000 expected to be processed this year.

Because of her phenomenal work with the program, which has taken the average wait time for terminally ill benefit applicants from several months down to a few weeks, Diane Braunstein was named as a finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal this year.

Although Braunstein’s work on the Compassionate Allowance program has increased the disbursement rate of SSDI benefits to those who most desperately need them, it is still necessary to follow the guidelines given by the SSA when applying for Social Security Disability under Compassionate Allowances.

Having one of the disabling conditions covered under the Compassionate Allowance listings does not guarantee that you will qualify. To qualify, your medical documentation must show a solid diagnosis of one of the listed diseases. It is always important to make sure your medical and other records are accurate, as the sophisticated claims processing system used by the SSA will automatically determine if you qualify under the criteria for Compassionate Allowance diseases. Missing or incorrect information could add weeks or months on to your processing time.

For these reasons, it is generally advisable to get the help of a qualified Social Security Disability representative, who will know the information you will need to present and ensure you are not missing any key elements of your application.

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