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After long battle, cancer survivor fights for SSDI benefit reform

Whenever serious illness strikes, life for Michigan families can change dramatically. However, no one can anticipate their life changing as much as one cancer survivor's has. The woman has since focused her energy on advocating for reforms in Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.

Nearly 12 years ago, the woman was struck by a shocking diagnosis: She had a rare form of liver cancer. Doctors removed a large tumor, but they didn't realize that much of her chest cavity was also affected. After going through very difficult treatments, the woman's marriage fell apart, in addition to losing custody of her adopted son and her home.

Rather than being discouraged, she decided to go back to school to become a teacher. She was happy with that change, but the cancer came back. After this round of treatment, she was left with a permanent feeding tube and the need to apply for disability benefits.

Again, this woman was not content with just letting the disease rule her life. She has first-hand experience with how difficult it can be for people to receive disability benefits, even if their medical condition warrants it, which is why she is pushing for changes.

Currently, the Social Security Administration's "credit of work calculator" only accounts for the last 10 years of an individual's work history, which may include years of dealing with health issues. As a result, the actual amount of money a person paid into the system over their lifetime may be much higher than the current process demonstrates.

Furthermore, the woman would like to see changes in how Supplemental Security Income benefits are dispensed. Current rules dictate that a person must have only $2,000 worth of available resources, which forces many people to liquidate their assets just to qualify. Even though a person's health may necessitate financial assistance, they may not even qualify for benefits that would bring stability to their life.

Every person's medical situation is unique and demands careful consideration for disability benefits. However, in many ways, this woman's story is familiar. If she were physically able, this woman would likely be working full time. Despite all this, she has not given up hope. Rather, she has become a champion for a cause she understands all too well.

Source: Dayton Daily News, "Cancer survivor advocate for disability rights of all," Susan Dalzell, May 2, 2012

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