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Social Security Disability Intends to Cut You Off: What Should You Do?

What should you do if you receive a notice from Social Security that they have reviewed your case and determined that your medical condition has improved such that you are no longer disabled, and that your benefits will be cut off as of a certain date?

This type of termination is being processed under something called a continuing disability review (CDR) and we are seeing more and more of these CDR termination notices.

First of all, do not panic. Under Social Security’s rules you will have an opportunity to contest SSA’s termination decision. You can also choose to continue receiving your benefits while the CDR evaluation process drags on – this can take a year or longer. Continue reading →

Approved Claimant Returns to Work – Are there any Defenses to a Continuing Disability Review or Termination Action by SSA

How should you prepare for a Continuing Disability Review (CDR) or notice of proposed termination?  It depends on how vulnerable you are to losing.   I received the following question from one of my readers:

I received a letter from SSA saying that they are reviewing my current SSDI benefit and possible to end my benefits due to substantial work between 2004 and now.   I would like to have your advisement how I should handle this and what options I can do to keep my SSDI benefits.   I only have Medicare insurance and living with AIDS.   Also, I am deaf.

My response: Social Security is saying that you engaged in “substantial activity” from 2004 to the present.  “Substantial activity” is a term of art and refers to activity that is work or work like activity.   Substantial activity can be work for pay, volunteer work, school or other similar activites.

In a CDR context, Social Security is most likely looking at your earnings record.  As you know, when you work your employer files copies of all W-2’s and 1099’s generated on behalf of employees.  If you were working and your employer was withholding taxes as the law requires there is a written record of your earnings.

I have posted a table on this blog setting out what you can earn and still fall below SGA (substantial gainful activity).   Social Security will look at your earnings month by month to calculate how many months you exceeded SGA.  You could, in theory, could be asked to repay SSA for each month that you received earnings over SGA and also collected SSDI. Continue reading →

How Do Job Training Programs Affect Continuing Disability Reviews

In my practice I do not see very many continuing disability review (CDR) cases.   If you are not familiar with this term, a “continuing disability review” involves a review by Social Security as to whether an approved claimant remains disabled.  For example, there are some medical conditions that can and do improve over time and with treatment.   I have been involved in many cases – especially those in which the claimant is in his 20’s or 30’s – when the judge specifically includes in his decision that a particular claimant should be reviewed in 1 year, or perhaps 3 years.

In theory, every Social Security disability case will be subject to a CDR.  In reality, because of the current backlog, I rarely hear from my clients that their cases are being reviewed.   The few cases that do seem to end up in a CDR typically involve younger claimants.

I am not usually called upon to handle CDR cases because Continue reading →

Should Approved Claimant Report New Medical Problems to Social Security During Continuing Disability Review?

I don’t get a lot of questions about “continuing disability reviews” (CDR).  Here is one that raises an important issue.  For those not familiar with the term, a CDR is the process by which Social Security evaluates approved claimants to confirm that they still meet the requirements for disability under Social Security’s rules.

Sometimes, judges will specifically provide for a review in 12 months.  The official Social Security disability web sites provides that all cases are to be reviewed every 36 months (although it has been my observation that the 36 month reviews have been performed at random).  Although I have not seen any regulations to this effect, I suspect that the cases which are reviewed may be ones where improvement might be most likely.   For example, if your approval is based on a condition that could be corrected by (invasive) surgery, your case might be flagged for review.

You should also understand that disability attorneys like me rarely get involved in CDR cases.  Why?  Continue reading →

Will Graduate Student Work Stipend Cause Paraplegic to Lose SSDI Benefits?

My April 26, 2008 post about attending college and applying for Social Security disability generated a large number of emails and questions.  A reader sent me this question which is about the impact of a stipend and part time job on an SSDI recipient who has already been deemed disabled.

I recently was injured and now am a paraplegic.  Before my injury I was an airline pilot but can no longer fly because of my disability.  I am returning to school to learn a new profession.  My question is “Will accepting aid such as a position as a graduate assistant be considered gainful employment?”  Depending on which school I attend and which program I enter, I will receive a tuition waiver and a stipend of anywhere from $6000 to $20000 a year for working 10 to 20 hours a week.  It is a merit based program; the more competitive I am the more assistance I will receive for basically the exact same duties.  I definitely cannot afford to go to school if I lose my SSDI but would hate to attend a lesser school just to stay under Social Securities’ income limit.  Any information would be greatly appreciated.

Here are my thoughts:  as a paraplegic, you meet the disability listing at 11.04 or under any one of the muculoskeletal listings (Listing 1.00).  At this point, I would assume that medically, there is not a likelihood that you will regain function in your lower extremities, meaning that you will continue to meet the listing on an ongoing basis.

10 to 20 hours a week is not full time employment, although part time employment taken in combination with full or part time school is substantial gainful activity.  It is certainly possible that when your employer reports income to Social Security it will trigger Social Security to review your case.  If you were only working 10 to 20 hours a week, and not attending school, you could argue that your employment was not equal to substantial gainful activity.  If you are getting special accomodations at work because of your medical condition, It would be helpful to document those special considerations.

Taken in combination part time work and school looks like substantial gainful activity –  it would be difficult to argue otherwise.  So, I think that there is a risk that your earnings and college attendance could trigger a continuing disability review, however, I wonder how likely that you will face this.  Your eligibility for benefits is a function of your medical condition and your medical condition is not one that will improve.

The money issue is a separate issue.

You can have earnings and still collect SSDI.   If you earn less than $670 per month, no problem.  If you earn more than $670 in a given month, that month counts as a "trial work period."  You still get your regular benefit check, but you use up one of your 9 trial work period months.  You can also claim necessary expenses against your gross earnings, meaning that your gross can be more than $670.

After you use up your 9 months of trial work, then you move into the "extended period of disability" where SSA will look at your earnings on a month by month basis.

I think you need to look at the eligibility issue and the money issue as separate problems.  SSA does not publish a set "formula" that might tell you what level or earnings and/or activity can trigger a review. 

Working After a Favorable Disability Determination – Potential Problems

Jonathan, I have a question I hope you can help me with. I am a 57-year old computer programmer. In March of 1999 I suffered a stroke, and in July 2002 I filed for SSDI benefits. I was initially rejected but was approved following a hearing. My question is; I have been working full-time since mid_oct of last year, except for a two-month break. When I call the SSA, they either tell me that, if I continue working I will be subject to a CDR, or they tell me the exact opposite, that I can continue to work for three more years and still retain my disability status. I would very much appreciate it if you could tell me which is which, since I have to make a decision in the next two weeks whether or not to continue working. Thank you.


Jonathan Ginsberg responds:  Morris, I think you are confusing two different issues.  A CDR (continuing disability review) is a review of your medical condition to determine whether you continue to meet the legal definition of “disability.”  In other words, does your medical condition still meet a “listing,” does your functional capacity prevent you from functioning as a reliable employee, or do you continue to meet the medical-vocational guidelines (the grids).   Often times the presence of an earnings record in a disabled person will trigger a CDR.  Again, the CDR is a medical review.

The 36 month issue falls into a different category.  After you start receiving benefits, you are eligible for a “trial work period” for up to 9 months during any 60 month period.  During that trial month period, you continue to receive your regular benefit even while you work.  Once you have used up your 9 months of trial work, you go into an “extended trial work period” of 36 months (which is apparently where you are now).  During that time, you would receive benefits for any month where your work is not “substantial” ($860 earnings per month).   The extended work period looks at your earnings and has nothing to do (presumably) with your medical condition.

Take a look at SSA publication 05-10095 for more information about the extended trial work period.