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Cancer Patients Forced To Wait Months For Compassionate Allowance Benefits

CHICAGO (CBS) - Laurie Mickelberg, 49, is dying of cancer and needs Social Security disability benefits - now.

However, she and thousands of others just like her, face a long waiting period and may not survive to collect.

Mickelberg is fighting stage 4 ovarian cancer medically and financially.

"It's financial implosion. Cancer is expensive," she said.

Too sick to work, she's struggling to keep the home she hoped to pass on to her daughter and granddaughter.

"It may not be much, but it's mine and it's theirs and it's all I have to give them," she said.

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 said.

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.

Renata Iwanicka's brother was 40 when he was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer.

She 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," Iwanicka said.

According to the Social Security Administration, last year 91 people approved for Compassionate Allowance benefits died before getting them.

"I don't understand the mandatory waiting period," Mickelberg said.

To fix this, federal legislation is being introduced to get rid of the waiting period.

"It just seems like a backward process, especially when you can get it verified by two independent doctors that you're fighting this illness," Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis said. "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 because the cancer has spread to her liver.

She's hoping Congress sees why it's needed.

"if it helps one person, this was the right thing to do. Even if it's not me," she said.

Last year, 68,000 people were approved for the Compassionate Allowance benefit, but had to wait at least six months for a disability check.

The legislation to get rid of the waiting period appears to have bipartisan support and is expected to be introduced later this year.

If passed, it could take effect as early as next year.

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