How long will I be paid for while I am disabled?
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is provided to individuals who are disabled with a severe mental or physical health condition that is expected to last for at least 12 continuous months or result in death.
Individuals who qualify for SSDI benefits must also have worked and earned sufficient work credits to be considered “insured” by the Social Security Administration (SSA), and not be working or making too much money when they apply for benefits.
How long will I be paid for while I am disabled?
Different types of disability benefits—such as workers’ compensation benefits, which are paid to workers who have been injured while performing their normal job duties; or short-term benefits, which are paid to disabled workers by their employer—will have different payment periods. Workers’ compensation payment periods are dictated by state law, while short-term disability benefits are determined by employment insurance policies.
SSDI, however, is paid until the claimant is determined to be no longer disabled by the SSA, the claimant starts performing work that the SSA considers substantial gainful activity, the workers dies, or the worker reaches their full retirement age.
Let’s look at each of these situations in more detail.
1. The worker is determined no longer disabled by the SSA.
The SSA is required to complete a periodic review of every person who is receiving disability benefits. The process is referred to as a continuing disability review (CDR), and its purpose is to determine whether a disability recipient should continue to receive SSDI benefits or if their condition has improved to such a degree that the claimant can return to work.
Depending on the medical condition and the age of the SSDI recipient, the CDR is completed every three or seven years. However, some claimants—who have a condition that is not expected to improve—may have a CDR performed less than every seven years.
Actions that could trigger a CDR include returning to work, a third-party notification to the SSA that a claimant’s condition has improved, or the development of a medical treatment that could improve a claimant’s condition.
2. The worker returns to work and performs substantial gainful activity.
Claimants who work too many hours, or who perform work that generates substantial income (or could generate income), are considered not disabled—regardless of the severity of their health condition.
In 2016, workers who earn $1,130 or more per month from working (or $1,820 for the blind) are performing what the SSA considers gainful work, and are ineligible for benefits.
If you are currently receiving SSDI benefits, the SSA will allow you to earn a gainful income for a period of time, referred to as a "trial work period." However, if you earn this income for too many months, your SSDI benefits will be terminated.
Workers may also have their benefits terminated (even if they are not generating an income) if the SSA determines that their work is substantial. For example, if you are performing 40 hours of volunteer work, the SSA may decide that you are not disabled and terminate your benefits even if your work is not generating a profit. The assumption is that if you are doing this much work that people could get paid to perform, you are not disabled.
When deciding whether or not to return to work, it’s important to talk to the Social Security Administration (SSA). The SSA has implemented several programs that encourage disability recipients to return to work. However, workers who do not understand the programs, and return to work for too many months and make too much money, can jeopardize their SSDI benefits.
3. The worker dies.
If a worker is receiving SSDI benefits and they die, they will obviously no longer receive benefits. Family members of certain qualifying members, however, may be entitled to disability benefits even after a claimant dies. Talk to the SSA if you have questions about your rights to receive disability survivor benefits.
4. The worker reaches their full retirement age.
Workers who are receiving SSDI benefits when they reach their full retirement age will no longer be entitled to SSDI. This means that they will not receive both SSDI disability benefits and retirement benefits simultaneously.
If you are receiving SSDI benefits when you reach your full retirement age, your benefits will automatically be converted to your SSA retirement benefit.
Some claimants who are close to retirement age, and cannot work, ask if they should apply for early retirement or SSDI benefits. There are pros and cons of both choices. If this is a difficult consideration for you, talk to the SSA to discuss your options.
Bottom line: Social Security Disability Insurance benefits are considered a long-term disability benefits program available to workers who are severely disabled and cannot work. It should not be assumed, however, that the benefits are always permanent. Under some conditions, claimants can lose their rights to SSDI benefits.