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Blog
Aug
17
2016

When Will Your Social Security Disability Benefits End?

Usually you are applying for ongoing benefits when you file an initial application for Social Security disability or supplemental security income.  If you are found disabled by the Social Security Administration (SSA), your benefits should continue unless: (1) you were awarded Social Security disability benefits for a “closed period,” or only for a certain length of time, (2) the SSA made a finding of “medical improvement” and stopped your Social Security disability benefits, (3) you returned to work and your earnings were above the substantial level, or (4) you are at retirement age and your disability benefits are changed into retirement benefits.

Closed Period of Disability Benefits

The SSA does allow disability claims for a closed period of time.  According to Social Security regulations, the length of disability must be for at least 12 months.  Whether you want to accept a closed period of benefits should be a voluntary decision.  When you file an application for supplemental security income or for Social Security disability benefits, you can ask upfront for a closed period of disability.  Closed periods of disability are appropriate if your medical condition caused you to be unable to work in the recent past, but now it is no longer severe enough to prevent you from working.

However, many times the claimant can feel pressured to accept a closed period of benefits.  Quite often this scenario occurs during an administrative hearing.  For example, a medical expert might testify during the hearing that an individual would meet or equal a listing under the Listing of Impairments for a closed period of time, and would therefore qualify for Social Security disability benefits only for that time period.  The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) might ask the claimant during the hearing whether they would stipulate (or agree) to the closed period for Social Security disability benefits.  You would need to discuss with your disability attorney whether you want to continue fighting for ongoing benefits, or whether you will stop the case and agree to a closed period of benefits.

There has been some court litigation regarding the fact that if there has been a stipulation to a closed period, an ALJ may not make specific findings in a decision regarding whether the claimant is disabled after the closed period.  Depending on the case law in your state, there could be a basis for appeal if the ALJ uses the wrong language in his decision.

Medical Improvement and Social Security Disability Benefits

When you are found disabled, there is generally a presumption of continuing disability unless the SSA brings forth sufficient evidence of a “medical improvement” and a changed ability to work.  The SSA could find medical improvement if any of the following factors occur: your doctor states in your medical records that your condition is now stable or has improved, you start new medication or therapy which reduces the length and frequency of symptoms, or you have a successful corrective surgery.  If there is a possibility of medical improvement in your medical condition, the SSA will review your medical records approximately every three years.

The analysis of a medical improvement is similar to the five-step process used in regular Social Security disability claims.  The SSA will decide whether any of your medical conditions (called impairments) have no longer become severe and whether you no longer meet the requirements in the Listing of Impairments.  The SSA will also reassess your residual functional capacity (RFC) which includes all your physical and mental limitations in performing work duties.  If your RFC has changed, the SSA may decide that you are no longer entitled to receive disability benefits because you are able to perform your past work or can do other work in the national economy.  Social Security is required to include a certain date for purposes of determining medical improvement and it must include its new findings in a decision.  You are able to appeal the termination of your Social Security disability benefits.  It is advisable to hire a Social Security disability attorney to help prepare your termination of benefits case.

Returning to Work and Disability Benefits

If you decide to return to work, your Social Security disability benefits can be stopped if your earnings are found to be above a substantial level.  This amount changes every year.  If you are currently receiving Social Security disability benefits (SSDI), you also are eligible for a trial work period of nine months without reduction of your disability payments.  But if you are receiving supplemental security income (SSI), you do not have a trial work period and your work earnings can decrease your disability payments.

Disability Benefits Converting Into Retirement Benefits

Once you reach full retirement age, your Social Security disability benefits will be transferred into retirement benefits.  The amounts paid should stay the same.  Full retirement age may be between 65 to 67 years old.

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