2 Investigators: Disability System Waits Out Terminally Ill Applicants

(CBS) — Laurie Mickelberg is a 49-year-old who needs her Social Security disability benefits now.

She qualifies for them because she is dying of cancer and can no longer work. Government red tape is forcing her and thousands others like her into a waiting period that is so long many will not survive long enough to collect.

Mickelberg receives her chemotherapy treatment, ninety minutes of intravenous drugs fed into her through a port in her chest. The Aurora native is being treated for Stage IV ovarian cancer that has spread to other vital organs.

The mother and grandmother and is too sick to hold a job and says the cancer and the weekly  treatments leave her weak.

“Extreme fatigue, headaches that can become migraines very easily, nausea, vomiting,” Mickelberg explains.

Mickelberg is also suffering financially and now fears she will lose her home instead of leaving it to her family.

“It may not be much, but it’s mine and it’s theirs, and it’s all I have to give them,” she says.

Because of her disease, Mickelberg says she qualified in February to receive $1,900 a month from the Social Security Administration, but she was told she has to wait until July at the earliest before she can collect her full disability payments.

“I’ve been working since i was 14 years old. I’m 49. I’ve paid into Social Security for 35 years. I won’t live to collect it,” she says.

Her claim is being processed through a program called Compassionate Allowance. Those diagnosed with one of 225 illnesses are on special list that goes through a fast approval process. But they still have to wait at least six months before getting a check.

“To me, it’s just horrifying. It’s horrifying what they are doing,” says Renata Iwanicka, a resident of southwest suburban Romeoville.

Iwanicka’s brother, Derrick, was 40 years old when he was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer.

Iwanicka says he struggled to care for his family while waiting nine months for his first Compassionate Allowance check. He died the next week.

“It felt like Social Security was waiting for him to die, hoping that he would never get a payment,” says Iwanicka.

According to the Social Security Administration, last year 91 people approved for Compassionate Allowance benefits died before getting them. They could not provide the average wait time for those who live long enough to receive payment.

There were 68,827 people who were approved under the Compassionate Allowance program in calendar year 2016. Despite that approval, they still waited at least six months to receive a check.

“It angers me. I don’t understand the mandatory waiting period,” Mickelberg says.

Federal legislation is being introduced to get rid of the waiting period by Congressman Rodney Davis, R-Ill.

“It just seems like a backward process, especially when you can get it verified by two independent doctors that you’re fighting this illness,” says Davis. “I think that the bureaucracy in Washington ought to work much faster

Mickelberg says she isn’t sure she’ll see the measure become law; the cancer has spread to her liver.

“If it helps one person, this was the right thing to do — even if it’s not me,” she says.

She’s hoping, by speaking out, Congress sees why it is needed. The legislation appears to have bipartisan support and, if passed, could take effect next year.

A Go Fund Me page has been set up to help Mickelberg.

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