What Collecting SSDI Benefits Does and Does Not Mean

May 6th, 2016 by Attorney John Colvin

Social Security Disability Facts

Many people believe that if they should become disabled, they can count on Social Security Disability Insurance for support. And while SSDI has helped millions of Americans, many more applicants have been denied benefits, or lost their benefits, for reasons that seem unclear.

Following are some important facts about SSDI that may help applicants and recipients.

Proof of Disability

A person who has suffered a debilitating injury that is clearly visible, such as the loss of a limb, may reasonably expect that providing proof of that disability is as simple as getting a letter from the family doctor. However, the Social Security Administration is most concerned with how a disability interferes with one’s ability to work. Even a person who has lost a limb may still be able to work, in some capacity.

The SSA may require in-depth evidence about an applicant’s work history and ability to adapt to a new occupation. Medical evidence of any disability must also show the condition or injury is likely to last a year or more.

The SSA will also review the cases of people who have been approved for benefits. If someone is drawing benefits but can’t provide documentation that the disability has been ongoing with little to no improvement, the SSA may terminate benefits.

Back Pay and Eligibility Period

When applying for SSDI, some people don’t realize that if their disability claim is approved, the SSA mandates a five-month waiting period before they issue the first disability payment.  That five-month period begins from the “date of onset,” which is the date on which a person became disabled.

If a person becomes disabled and is approved for benefits seven months after the established onset date, Social Security would award two months of back pay.  Back pay, however, cannot exceed beyond 12 months prior to the claimant’s application. Therefore, the claimant’s benefits begin either 12 months before the date of application or five full months after the date he or she was found disabled, whichever is later.  For example, if the date of onset is determined to be May 1, 2014, and that person is approved for benefits on December 1, 2017 based upon an application date of November 1, 2015, the back pay would be calculated with a beginning date of Nov. 1, 2014 (at least five months after the established date of onset but no greater than 12 months prior to the application).  Accordingly, November 1, 2014 is the entitlement date for SSDI benefits in this instance.

Anyone applying for disability should do so as soon as possible.  SSDI applications may take a long time for the SSA to review, or an applicant may need to appeal initial denials of a claim.

Work and SSDI

People with disabilities may be able to return to work at some point, although they may be unable to work enough hours to support themselves. The SSA has built some flexibility into the SSDI program that allows recipients to attempt to work without automatically losing their benefits.

Pursuant to the applicable Social Security regulations, a person can enter a trial work period of at least nine months; however, he or she should notify the Social Security Administration fairly quickly since Social Security requires claimants to report any return to work so that the agency is able to document and track such activity and issue a receipt of the reported work activity.  Claimants should safeguard any receipt received from Social Security for the reported activity to the Administration in order to have verifiable proof that they reported such activity and guard against any overpayment issues that might arise or being investigated for fraud.  Please remember that even though Social Security has established specific rules and guidelines to encourage return to work attempts, the claimant should be mindful that if any work activity is not properly and timely reported, the claimant could risk losing benefits.  Therefore, it is highly advisable to coordinate any return to work attempt with the local Social Security Office so that the claimant is provided every benefit of continuing to receive his or her SSDI payments pursuant to the applicable regulations while at the same time guarding against any overpayment issues that might arise.

Licensed to Practice in Tennessee & Alabama