What to expect after an SSA disability approval

We designed the first three Legal Corner installments this year (found in the Spring, Summer and Fall issues) to walk you through the Social Security Administration (SSA) disability application process. In this final installment for 2016, we aim to prepare you for life while receiving disability benefits by answering a few common questions about the process.

When will I get my disability check and how will it be sent to me?

Whether your claim was approved in one month or two years, your disability payments can never arrive soon enough. Your first Social Security benefit will be paid on the sixth full month after the date SSA found you became disabled. In other words, if SSA found you disabled on Sept. 20, 2016, your first monthly benefit would be paid to you in March of 2017. Social Security benefits are paid out the month after they’re due—similar to an electric bill paid the month after the services were used. As such, the benefit due for March would be paid to you in April, and so on.

The exact date your Social Security checks will arrive depends on your date of birth.

  • If your birthday falls on the first 10 days of a month, you will receive a check on the second Wednesday of every month.
  • If your birthday is from the 11th to 20th of a month, you will receive a check on the third Wednesday of every month.
  • If your birthday is from the 21st to 30th of a month, you will receive a check on the fourth Wednesday of every month.

Until fairly recently, most Social Security disability recipients received a paper check in the mail. The SSA now requires beneficiaries to receive payment electronically. The first check can be paid by paper (giving you funds to open a bank account), and from that point forward, you will receive your payments via direct deposit. If you don’t want to receive direct deposits, SSA offers a debit card option.

I’ve heard SSA might review my case again. Is this true?

A Continuing Disability Review (CDR) is a routine review done by SSA to make sure you are still disabled and entitled to your benefits. How often you receive a CDR depends on how likely SSA thinks it is that your medical condition will improve. SSA assigns all recipients one of three categories:

  • If medical improvement is expected, SSA will review the claim in six to 18 months.
  • If medical improvement is possible, SSA will review the claim every three years.
  • If medical improvement is not expected, SSA will review the claim every seven years.

The internal schedule for review is set at the time of approval (and not communicated to you, as the beneficiary). When you are selected for a CDR, you will receive written notice from SSA along with forms to fill out and return. Do not panic—over 90 percent of adults who undergo CDRs have their benefits continued—but also don’t ignore it. Complete the forms exactly as instructed and return them to SSA in a timely fashion. SSA will closely review your file and obtain updated medical evidence. In order for SSA to terminate your benefits, it must prove that you have experienced substantial medical improvement. This burden of proof is difficult to meet.

If SSA finds that you have experienced substantial medical improvement, it will mail you a notice ending your benefits. You have 60 days to appeal this decision by submitting a Request for Reconsideration form. The appeal process of a CDR is congruent with the initial appeal process. You can request a paper review of your termination or a face-to-face meeting with a disability hearing officer. If your reconsideration request is denied, you have another 60 days to request a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge.

Important note: If you want to have your benefits continued during the time SSA is deciding your case, you need to submit the Request for Reconsideration within 10 days of receiving your denial and specifically ask for your monetary and/or insurance benefits to continue during the appeal. If, at the end of your CDR appeal, SSA finds you ineligible for continuing benefits, they could seek overpayment for that which was paid to you during the appeal process. But that is rare, unless SSA finds your appeal is “frivolous,” meaning it has no legal basis.

As an SSA beneficiary, you are likely to receive a CDR notice at some point in your life. So, here are a few suggestions to prepare for a CDR:

  • Maintain a good relationship with your doctors and seek consistent treatment.
  • Keep a list of all medical tests and treatments.
  • Notify SSA of any change in your mailing address. If you do not receive your CDR notice and take the necessary steps to appeal, you could be denied.

Can I work at all and still receive my monthly SSA benefits?

Social Security has several special rules that can help if you want to work.

The Trial Work Period (TWP) allows you to test your ability to work without the threat of losing benefits. Under the TWP, you have nine months (that do not have to be consecutive) in every rolling 60-month (five-year) period in which you can work at any threshold and continue receiving monthly disability benefits and insurance coverage. You must receive Title II Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits to qualify. If you receive only Title XVI Social Security Insurance (SSI), you do not qualify. The TWP starts the first month you make over $810* gross in active earnings, beginning on the date of your first monthly check (your date of entitlement). While applying for or receiving SSA benefits, if you make less than $810* in a month, you are not required to report the earnings and your disability will not be impacted. After nine months of work above $810, you move into the extended period of eligibility.

Your Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) starts the month after your TWP ends whether or not you are working that month. The EPE lasts for 36 months (three years) regardless of work activity. During these 36 months, if you earn below $1,130*—the substantial gainful activity (SGA) threshold—your disability benefits will continue, but on the first month that you earn above $1,130*, SSA will find that you no longer meet the requirements for disability due to work and benefits will cease. You will get paid for the month your disability ceased and the following two months (i.e. three-month grace period). If your earnings fall back below SGA during these 36 months, SSA can restart your benefits without a new application. (See Dispelling Disability Myths for more about SGA, trial work and other disability nuances.)

If you were a prior SSDI or SSI beneficiary and your benefits ended because of work after the EPE, you can request that your benefits start again without having to complete a new application. This is called Expedited Reinstatement and the criteria are as follows:

  • You are unable to work or perform SGA.
  • You are disabled because of an impairment(s) that is the same or related to the impairment(s) that allowed you to get benefits earlier.
  • You make the request within five years from the month your benefits ended.

Provisional payments (cash payments and Medicare/Medicaid) may be paid for up to six months while your expedited reinstatement decision is being made. If you are approved for expedited reinstatement and you had an auxiliary (ex: dependent child) on the original record, they must file a new application for benefits but their benefits can also be reinstated.

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