What Is the Compassionate Allowances Program?

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Social Security disability benefits, such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), are programs that provide financial assistance to people who meet the Social Security’s statutory standard for disability. The application process can take months or even over a year to complete, which can be problematic for those who are dealing with pain, discomfort, and/or disability, along with a loss of income from an inability to work as usual.

The Compassionate Allowances (CAL) program was developed in 2007 to speed up the process for people who meet certain medical criteria (and by extension, the standard for disability required for the benefits) so they can receive their benefits sooner.

Read on to learn more about CAL, who qualifies for it, and how to apply.

Two people showing compassion

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What Are Compassionate Allowances?

The CAL program is meant to allow for faster processing of SSDI and SSI benefits for people with specified conditions and disabilities. Those who qualify for CAL automatically meet Social Security's statutory standard of disability requirement for SSDI and/or SSI.

What Are the Social Security Disability Benefits Programs?

There are two programs available to provide payments to people who become disabled (including many medical conditions). It's possible to qualify for one or both, depending on which criteria is met.

Social Security Disability Insurance

The SSDI program pays benefits for people who are disabled and have paid Social Security taxes over the years via their work or self-employment. Benefits begin six months or later after the last day of work. The amount paid depends on the person's work history and how much they have paid into Social Security. Financial need is not a consideration.

To qualify, the person must:

  • Have a condition that prevents them from working for one year or more, or that is expected to end in death
  • Have worked long enough and earned enough “credits” in jobs covered by Social Security

Supplemental Security Income

SSI is based on income and need. To qualify, the person must:

  • Be age 65 or older, blind, or disabled
  • Have very limited income (including money from work or other benefit programs)
  • Have very limited resources (things you own, such as cars or life insurance)
  • Be a U.S. citizen or national, or be in an approved category of person who is not a U.S. citizen or national
  • Be a resident of the United States who is not out of the country for 30 or more consecutive days

Conditions That Qualify for CAL

Conditions on the CAL approved list include:

  • Several types of cancers
  • Several types of neurodegenerative disorders
  • Many rare diseases
  • Many other conditions that are considered to be very serious and difficult to live with

The severity of the condition may also be taken into account.

A full list of conditions can be found on the Social Security website.

More conditions are occasionally added to the list, and there is a place on the Social Security website to suggest conditions to be considered for inclusion.

Where to Find Help Applying

The application process for Social Security benefits and CAL can be daunting to do on your own. If you need help applying, there are associations and companies available, such as:

Please note: These are examples only. Verywell Health does not endorse the companies on this list. Make sure to do due diligence before acquiring services from these or any companies or associations.

How to Apply for the Compassionate Allowance Program

The Social Security website gives the following options for applying for disability benefits:

There are no special forms or boxes to check to apply for CAL. The system automatically scans online applications for keywords and conditions (forms are reviewed by the Social Security Administration (SSA) in the same manner). Applications with CAL conditions identified through this process are flagged as a case for CAL.

In order for your application to be flagged, you must have listed one of the CAL conditions and/or informed the SSA of your condition. To be approved, the appropriate medical documentation to prove your condition must be provided.

To try to minimize delays, provide complete information and documentation as early as possible.

If you have a qualifying condition but are not approved quickly (within a week to a few months), check in with the SSA to make sure it is being expedited.

How Long Does It Take for Approval and Payment?

Once the application has been flagged as a case for CAL, it can take from a week to a few months for the application to be approved.


The Compassionate Allowances (CAL) program is a practice that was put in place to shorten the wait time for Social Security disability benefits from application to approval for people who have certain conditions or disabilities.

When one of the specific conditions is identified on an application, the application is flagged as a case for CAL, and the process for that application is expedited.

Once flagged, it typically takes from a week to a few months for the application to be approved.

A Word From Verywell 

If you are considering applying for one of the Social Security disability benefits, check the list of CAL-approved conditions. If you have a condition or disability that is on the list, make sure you put it in your application so it can be flagged for expedition and get you your benefits sooner.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are Social Security disability benefits?

    Two types of Social Security disability benefits are:

    • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): Payments made to qualifying disabled people based on employment history and amount paid into Social Security.
    • Supplemental Security Income (SSI): Payments based on financial need made to qualifying people who are age 65 or older, blind, or disabled.
  • How long do you have to wait to receive SSDI benefits?

    Without the Compassionate Allowances program, the initial application for SSDI and/or SSI can take up to a year for approval (most initial applications are decided upon within three to six months, but about 70% are denied). If denied, there is an appeal process.

    With the Compassionate Allowances program, qualified applicants can be approved in as little as a week to a few months.

  • How do you apply for the Compassionate Allowances program?

    There isn't a separate application process for CAL. To apply, you fill out the same applications as those who don't meet the requirements for CAL, but make sure to put your CAL-approved condition in the application. From there, it will be flagged as a case for CAL. If you haven't heard back from them within a few months, contact the Social Security Administration to make sure it is being expedited.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Citizens Disability. What is the SSDI “compassionate allowance?”

  2. National Organization for Rare Disorders. Join NORD & SSA in forum on compassionate allowances & rare diseases.

  3. Social Security Administration. Compassionate allowances.

  4. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Tip sheet: social security and other disability benefits.

  5. American Cancer Society. Social security disability insurance for people with cancer.

  6. Social Security Administration. Disability benefits | How you apply.

  7. Alzheimer's Association. Social security disability.

  8. Citizens Disability. The initial application for SSDI & SSI benefits.

By Heather Jones
Heather M. Jones is a freelance writer with a strong focus on health, parenting, disability, and feminism.