Can I Lose My Social Security Disability Benefits?
Applying for Social Security Disability benefits can be a lengthy, complex process—with lots of pitfalls along the way. After making it through the process, you might think you’re in the clear (so to speak). Not so fast!
It’s actually possible to lose your SSDI benefits. Many SSDI benefits recipients have lost their benefits while they still needed them. (It’s unfortunate, we know.) Sometimes, a loss in benefits is due to a mistake; other times, it is unavoidable.
How can you lose your Social Security Disability benefits? What pitfalls should you avoid? Keep reading to find out how to keep the benefits you need.
Returning to Work
Under the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability, your condition must significantly limit your ability to do any “substantial gainful activity” (SGA).
The SSA considers someone to be doing substantial gainful activity if they earn $1,260 per month ($2,110 if the person is blind). If you return to work and reach this earnings threshold, it’s possible to lose your SSDI benefits.
However, that doesn’t mean that earning less than $1,260 will keep your disability benefits safe. Even if you are only doing part-time work earning $500 per month, the SSA may decide to terminate your benefits. That can happen if they review your job duties and determine that your condition does not prevent you from doing substantial gainful activity.
Finally, it’s important to mention an exception to the rule above. If you are interested in testing a return to work, but can’t jeopardize your benefits, you can take advantage of the SSA’s work incentives. (We talk more about working while on disability here.)
One such work incentive is a program called “Ticket to Work.” This program allows you to go through a trial work period. During the trial work period, you are able to receive your full SSDI benefits, regardless of how much you earn at work. The trial work period continues until you have used nine months in a 5-year time frame. A month counts as a trial work month if you earn more than $850.
To sum up, if you return to work while receiving SSDI benefits, this may raise red flags with the SSA. Consider participating in the “Ticket to Work” program if you want to test the waters while keeping your benefits safe.
This particular pitfall is surprising for many SSDI recipients. Yes, it’s possible to lose your SSDI benefits just from volunteering!
Why? As we mentioned before, earnings aren’t the only thing the SSA considers when reviewing your benefits.
Depending on the type of volunteer work you do, the SSA might determine that you are engaging in substantial gainful activity. If that’s the case, they would consider you no longer disabled, and you would lose your benefits. As a result, volunteering can cost you your SSDI benefits—even though you’re not making any money.
However, that doesn’t mean you have to stop volunteering! After all, volunteering can be an exciting and fulfilling way to spend your time.
Consider what kind of volunteering you’d like to do. Some types of volunteering are more likely to raise red flags with the SSA than others. For example, avoid doing a “job-like” volunteer activity, like bookkeeping for a non-profit or stocking shelves for a food pantry. The SSA might consider these volunteer jobs to be SGA. Instead, consider volunteer work like the “Foster Grandparent Program.”
Read our previous post for more information about volunteering while on disability.
The law requires the SSA to periodically review your case. This is called a “Continuing Disability Review.” In this review, the SSA determines whether or not you are still disabled—and whether or not you’ll get SSDI benefits.
Depending on your age and your particular condition, the SSA may review your case once every three to seven years.
However, the SSA may review your case sooner in certain circumstances. For example, a review might happen if they find that you have returned to work, if a new treatment for your condition is introduced, or if evidence suggests that you’ve experienced “medical improvement.” The SSA definition of medical improvement includes improving enough that you are able to do SGA.
Note that if the SSA decides that you’ve medically improved and you don’t agree with this decision, you can appeal.
Going to Prison or Institution
Going to prison or another penal institution because you’ve been convicted of a crime may result in lost disability benefits.
If you are incarcerated for more than 30 days, your benefits are suspended. This suspension continues for the length of time that you are incarcerated.
In many cases, your benefits are reinstated the month after your release from prison; however, certain felony convictions may lead to a loss in SSDI benefits. (Note that a misdemeanor conviction doesn’t affect your benefits unless you are incarcerated for 30 days.)
Reaching Retirement Age
While you can’t avoid this “pitfall” (none of us can stop time!), it’s important to know about this condition.
You can’t receive both disability benefits and retirement benefits at the same time. As a result, when you reach retirement age, your SSDI benefits will stop and your retirement benefits will kick in.
Questions? Call Us!
Social Security Disability is a complicated system that is practically designed to trip you up. That’s why it’s so helpful to have a knowledgeable disability attorney on your side.
If you have questions about applying for SSDI, appealing an SSA decision, or reinstating SSDI benefits that you’ve lost, don’t hesitate to call us.
We’d be happy to answer your questions and help you navigate this process with ease.