The process of getting approved for benefits can take years. Once approved, however, there is a built-in lag time that is meant to "ensure that we do not pay benefits to people who do not have a long-term disability," said Kia Green, a spokeswoman for the Social Security Administration.
That rule has been around since 1956, according to the 3/1710 edition of Foster's Daily Democrat, based out of Dover, New Hampshire. Now Russell and her family want to see that rule changed.
Ten months ago Russell was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. With tumors spreading through her lungs, brain, pelvis, neck and adrenal gland, she's trying to hang on long enough to make it to a couple of spring weddings—her cousin marries in April and her niece walks down the aisle in May.
There's no guarantee she'll make it to either of those events. For that matter, there's no guarantee Russell will live long enough to collect her first Social Security disability benefits check in mid-May.
US Senators Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, are cosponsoring legislation, known as S. 700, "to eliminate the waiting period for individuals with life-threatening conditions" covered by Social Security.
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Her parents, who help her out as best they can, live month-to-month on what she describes as modest Social Security benefits.
Last month Russell wrote Senator Judd Gregg, hoping to have the rule waived "so that I may receive the approved benefits as soon as possible and thus maintain a reasonable quality of lifestyle during my continuing battle with this disease."
In a statement to the Daily Democrat, Heather said, "My time may be short, but I wouldn't want to see anyone else go through it. It's not right."