Is there a time limit for how long you can collect Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?

There is no time limit for collecting Social Security Disability or SSI disability benefits. This is largely due to the way that the social security administration views disability benefits.

When you are approved to receive monthly benefits, it is only after an extensive review of both your medical records and work history has been conducted. And whether your approval was granted by a disability judge at a hearing office, or by a disability examiner who handled your case at the disability application level (or reconsideration appeal level), the process for determining your benefits was the same. That process really boils down to the conclusion that--

A) You cannot work and earn a substantial gainful living, either by doing your past work, or by attempting to do some type of other work


B) That your condition is both totally disabling and potentially permanently disabling.

What do we mean by "potentially permanently disabling"? Simply that social security views all approved claims as situations in which a person may always be disabled and unable to work. Nonetheless, social security also holds open the possibility that a claimant's condition may undergo medical improvement to the point that they can re-enter the workforce and earn a living, even if they are held to be fully disabled.

Medical improvement can only be verified through medical records and this is why all approved disability claims are scheduled to be reviewed at certain intervals.

Some cases will be reviewed each year, and some will be reviewed no sooner than every seven years. For the most part, though, the majority of cases will undergo a CDR, or continuing disability review, every three years (note: many cases that are "diaried" for three year reviews are often not actually reviewed until the fourth or fifth year, due to heavy workloads in social security field offices).

However, regardless of when a claimant's continuing disability review occurs, the fact remains that the vast majority of claims are continued (i.e. "re-approved") upon review, which simply means that very individuals ever have their disability benefits stopped due to the conclusion that they were no longer disabled.

As we said, whether or not social security can take someone off benefits at the time of their review hinges upon "medical improvement". Medical improvement is very difficult to prove on a disability case. And it is especially difficult for the social security adminisration to prove if the claimant received their disability approval from an administrative law judge at a disability hearing.

Disability judges tend to be more balanced in their decision-making, whereas disability examiners must report to unit supervisors who attempt to keep down the number of approvals (due to a culture of denial that exists in most DDS agencies).

Yet disability examiners, who make the decisions on continuing disability reviews (CDRs), must abide by what was set in place by a judge if the claimant's previous approval was made by a judge.

In short, there is no time limit for how long a person can collect disability benefits. And if a person is approved to receive disability benefits, the chances are good that they will continue to receive them for the remainder of their lifetime, unless they attempt to go back to work.

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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