Can You Lose Your Social Security Disability Benefits When Your Case Is Reviewed?

All disability beneficiaries will face a review of their disability case at one time or another. Many individuals will have multiple disability case reviews during the course of their time receiving Social Security Disability benefits. Generally, these case reviews result in no change in benefits for the disability beneficiary.

Disability claims that are approved for benefits are all "diaried" (i.e. scheduled) for a future continuing disability review, or CDR. Depending upon the likelihood of medical improvement, and sometimes the age of the individual, the disability claim will receive a diary date of one of the following: less than three years, three years, or seven years. Seven-year diary dates are given to disability cases that have very little likelihood of medical improvement.

In fact, a seven year medical diary is considered a permanent disability diary date. However, it may be safe to say that most cases will be reviewed on a three year schedule, and just a few claims will be scheduled for a yearly review (these, of course, would be cases in which medical improvement would be considered somewhat likely).

When a person's disability case comes up for its review date, Social Security will contact the disability beneficiary by mail or phone. Some Social Security claim representatives schedule all of their continuing disability review cases for in-person interviews, while others do their continuing disability reviews by phone, and some just mail out the continuing disability review paperwork for the disability beneficiary to complete and return by a designated date.

The method of completing the continuing disability review is usually determined by the CR, or Social Security claim representative (the person at the social security field office who has been assigned to handle your case: usually, assignments are made simply according to where your last name falls in the alphabet).

However, disability beneficiaries can ask for another method if they are unable to complete their disability review in the manner suggested by the Social Security claim's representative.

Once a Social Security claim representative has all the necessary paperwork completed, they forward the continuing disability review to a state Social Security Disability-processing agency for a decision as to whether or not an individual has medically improved.

This is the very same agency that makes decisions on disability applications and it is known in most states as DDS, or disability determination services.

Medical improvement can cause an individual's disability benefits to be terminated. While it is always possible that medical evidence contained in an individual's treatment notes could indicate that the individual has medically improved to the point of no longer being disabled, it is unlikely.

Medical improvement can only be proven through objective medical evidence, or by an individual's return to substantial gainful employment, i.e. working and earning the SGA amount. SGA, or substantial gainful activity, is just an arbitrary monthly earnings amount that Social Security considers to be supporting.

Each year the SGA monthly earnings amount may be increased. For example, more than a decade ago, the SGA limit was $700, meaning that a person could not earn more than $700 if he or she wanted to maintain eligibility for disability benefits. Since then, the SGA limit has risen considerably.

If an individual is not working, or is working at a level that is not SGA, they will not lose their disability benefits at a continuing disability review as long as their medical records do not indicate that their condition has medically improved.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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