Social Security Disability benefits are only awarded to people who suffer from long-term disabling conditions and, as a result, cannot work gainfully. Given these strict standards, Chicago residents who initially qualify for SSD benefits often continue to meet the relevant criteria for years. However, certain medical and other changes can affect a beneficiary’s eligibility for benefits.
If a medical condition improves, the Social Security Administration may determine that the condition is no longer disabling. The SSA conducts Continuing Disability Reviews to evaluate changes in each beneficiary’s condition. The reviews typically occur once every three to seven years, depending on the prognosis of the condition. However, reviews may take place more frequently if a condition might reasonably improve, or less frequently if a condition is permanent.
Certain developments can also trigger an unscheduled Continuing Disability Review. The SSA conducts a review automatically if any of the following things happen:
- The beneficiary starts working.
- The SSA learns the beneficiary has broken from the prescribed treatment plan.
- The beneficiary reports a medical improvement, or medical evidence indicates such an improvement.
- The invention of a new treatment protocol makes the disabling condition manageable or curable.
If the SSA determines a condition is no longer disabling, the beneficiary receives notice that benefits will cease. The beneficiary has the right to appeal this decision and request a continuation of benefits during the appeal process.
Resuming work is a common non-medical reason for SSD benefit loss. Beneficiaries lose eligibility for benefits if they engage in substantial gainful activity. In 2014, work producing monthly income greater than $1,070 qualifies as SGA, unless the worker suffers from statutory blindness. For these individuals, work with monthly income over $1,800 constitutes SGA. The SSA may also determine that a beneficiary with earnings below the relevant threshold is engaging in SGA, depending on the person’s job duties.
Beneficiaries who return to work may concurrently collect SSD benefits during a Trial Work Period, which typically lasts nine months. Any month in which earnings exceed $770 counts as part of the trial period. When the Trial Work Period ends, the SSA evaluates whether the work was SGA, based on the average monthly wages. If so, benefits stop, though beneficiaries still qualify for special provisions if they lose the ability to work within the next three years.
A few other changes may result in the temporary or permanent loss of SSD benefits. People who are incarcerated cannot receive SSD benefits. People who have been convicted of certain felonies permanently lose eligibility for SSD benefits. Benefits also cease if a beneficiary reaches retirement age, since beneficiaries cannot simultaneously collect Social Security Disability and Social Security retirement benefits.