Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that affects the membrane surrounding various organs, and is often caused by working with asbestos. The most common type of mesothelioma is pleural mesothelioma, which affects the membranes surrounding the lungs. Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, persistent cough, and weight loss. The second most common type of mesothelioma is peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the membranes in the lining of the abdomen. Symptoms include upper abdominal pain, persistent cough, and shortness of breath.
There are other, rare forms of mesothelioma as well, such as pericardial mesothelioma, testicular mesothelioma, and mesothelioma in the mediastinum.
There are three ways to qualify for disability with mesothelioma: meeting the criteria in the official disability listing, meeting the criteria of the compassionate allowances program, and having a limited functional capacity due to mesothelioma.
Qualifying for Disability Under SSA's Official Listing for Mesothelioma
The Social Security Administration (SSA) publishes what is called the Blue Book, which sets forth criteria for specific impairments that must be met in order to qualify for disability. The criteria for mesothelioma is found under Listing 13.15: Cancer of the Pleura or Mediastinum. If either of the two criteria below apply to your diagnosis of mesothelioma, your condition will be considered severe enough to “meet the listing" and you will automatically be considered disabled for SSA purposes.
- Mesothelioma of the pleura, or
- Mesothelioma in the mediastinum, spreading beyond regional lymph nodes or recurring following initial treatment.
Evidence in Your Medical Record
Diagnosing mesothelioma can be difficult, because the symptoms are associated with many other conditions. While an accurate diagnosis can be made only through a biopsy of tissue sample, your medical record can also include diagnostic testing such as x-rays of the chest or abdomen, CT scans, and an MRI. The findings of the pathologist who examined your tissue samples must also be included in your medical record.
Compassionate Allowance for Mesothelioma
Certain impairments that are easily documented and have a poor prognosis are fast-tracked through the “compassionate allowance" program. The most common types of mesothelioma qualify as compassionate allowance conditions. If you have been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma or peritoneal mesothelioma, you will qualify under the compassionate allowance program and your disability application will be processed very quickly, provided, of course, that you meet the other non-medical eligibility criteria for the particular program (SSDI or SSI) you are applying for.
Learn more about compassionate allowances.
Residual Functional Capacity
If you have a diagnosis of mesothelioma, but do not meet the criteria the SSA has set forth in the listing or the compassionate allowances program, the SSA will look at your “residual functional capacity,” or “RFC.” Your RFC assessment is used by the SSA to determine what you are still capable of doing in an employment situation, taking into account the limitations from your impairment as well as from the treatment given. For example, surgical treatment of some types of mesothelioma can lead to breathing problems. If you have shortness of breath and are easily fatigued, this can greatly limit the types of jobs you can do.
If the SSA finds that you are capable of performing a prior job you used to have, the SSA can deny your claim because you should be able to return to that kind of work.
If the SSA finds that you can't do your prior job, the SSA will look at your age, education and experience and will see if you are able to do any kind of work. If the SSA determines that your impairment and the symptoms associated with your impairment are so limiting that there is no job you can perform, you will be awarded benefits under what is called a “medical-vocational allowance.” When determining your RFC, the SSA will look at your statement on how your symptoms limit your ability to function, your doctor's opinion on what your limitations are, others’ statements, and your medical records. For more information, see our article on medical-vocational allowances.