Richter Syndrome

Richter Syndrome, also known as Richter’s Disease, is a rare, but aggressive transformation of previously diagnosed Lymphocytic Leukemia. The prognosis for people who have been diagnosed with Richter Syndrome is poor, with survival rates for Richter Syndrome often being only around a year. 

A Diagnosis of Richter Syndrome may mean that the Social Security Administration (SSA) could fast track an application for disability benefits through their Compassionate Allowance Program (CAP). Disability benefits payments can help the sufferer cope with financial stress while receiving treatments and battling Richter’s Disease.

What is Richter Syndrome?

Richter Syndrome is a rare form of non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in which Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) rapidly changes into an aggressive and fast-growing Lymphoma. The cause of Richter Syndrome may be due to mutations in the CLL cells. The typical age at which this malignant transformation occurs is between 61- and 70-years-old, although less than 10% of people with CLL experience the change to Richter Syndrome. 

Once the lymphoma has developed into Richter’s Syndrome, there is a higher chance that the cancer could spread to other organs such as the heart, lungs, brain or eye. Patients often have a limited life after receiving a Richter’s Disease diagnosis.

What is a Compassionate Allowance?

Compassionate allowances are designed to fast track disability benefits applications for applicants who have particularly serious medical conditions like Richter Syndrome and may have low survival prospects. 

Approval for compassionate allowance may mean that a disability benefits application could be assessed much more quickly in comparison to other disability benefits applications. A medical condition that meets the criteria for a compassionate allowance may reduce the time to make a decision and start making payments to days or weeks rather than months.

Typical symptoms that are experienced with Richter Syndrome must meet the criteria listed in the Blue Book’s section 13.05 (Neoplastic Diseases – Malignant-Adult) to qualify for disability benefits with Richter’s Disease. These include the following:

  • an increase in serum lactate dehydrogenase (LDH)
  • dizziness; 
  • elevated serum calcium;
  • increased fatigue; 
  • increased size of lymph nodes;
  • low platelet count;
  • painless swelling in the neck, axilla, abdomen, spleen (splenomegaly) or groin; 
  • palpitations; 
  • shortness of breath; 
  • unexplained weight loss, fevers and night sweats.

Medical Evidence for Richter Syndrome

The SSA’s adjudicator will carefully examine the medical evidence for Richter Syndrome. The evidence that will be needed by the SSA for them to be able to determine whether the condition merits a compassionate allowance may include any combination of the following:

  • biopsies;
  • blood chemistry studies; 
  • bone marrow aspiration; 
  • computerized tomography (CT/CAT) scans; 
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI); 
  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans. 

Get Help With Your Richter Syndrome Claim

The Social Security Administration treats applications for disability benefits that are submitted by applicants with very serious medical conditions like Richter Syndrome differently from other applications. And while the SSA’s Compassionate Allowance Program speeds up the decision-making process, the exacting criteria that helps the SSA determine whether an applicant’s condition is serious enough to qualify for a compassionate allowance can be a challenge for some people to understand and gather. As such, seeking help from a disability attorney is advisable.

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