Do I have to be permanently disabled to get Social Security Disability benefits?

By / March 3, 2016 / Social Security Disability & SSI Basic Facts / 45 Comments

Learn how you can get Social Security Disability benefits when your disability is not permanent and see how long you have to be disabled to get benefits.

Disability Doesn’t Have to Be Forever
One of the most common misconceptions about Social Security Disability is that to get Social Security disability benefits, you must be permanently disabled. This is not true. Social Security only requires you to be disabled for twelve months. If you recover, your benefits will stop. Many people who are in an accident, or have an illness that causes temporary disability, get Social Security disability payments, recover, and go back to work. So, you definitely are not promising to be disabled forever.

Disability Must Be for Twelve Months, with Exceptions
To be eligible for benefits, you do have to be disabled, or be expected to be disabled, for twelve consecutive months, with one exception. The exception occurs when you stop work because you are disabled, return to work again for six months or less, and then stop work again because of the same disability. In this situation, your return to work may be considered an “unsuccessful work attempt.” If so, your months off work, both before and after your unsuccessful work attempt, will count toward meeting the required twelve months of disability. When you complete your Social Security application for disability, claim the earliest date you believe you were disabled and list any dates that you returned to work for six months or less and stopped due to your health. Our article How Do I File an Application for Social Security Disability Benefits? provides more information about how to file a disability application. If you are uncertain about your earliest date of disability, Social Security Disability attorneys can help you pick the right date.

Work after Twelve Months of Disability
Later, after you have met the twelve-month duration requirement, you may be eligible for one of Social Security’s many work incentive programs, which allow work while receiving benefits. Our article Can I Keep Getting Benefits When I Am Working on Social Security Disability? discusses Social Security return-to-work incentives.

Do I have to be permanently disabled to get Social Security Disability benefits?
3.7 (73.33%) 3 votes

  • Dear Kay,
    Kay said you are welcome.
    Sincerely,
    Jane

  • Dear Kay,
    Kay said you are welcome.
    Sincerely,
    Jane

  • Dear Kay,

    For a point of clarity, if you are receiving benefits on your deceased parent’s record as a disabled adult child, your benefits are childhood disability benefits (CDB). SSDI (aka SSD) is Social Security Disability and is the disability benefit that is paid based on a person’s own work record.

    I would expect your SSDI claim, which is pending now, to be approved because the CDB was reinstated. I am wondering whether there has been some break down in communication between the CDB reinstatement and the pending SSDI claim processing because if one is medically approved the other should be as well. I suggest contacting the Disability Determination Services (DDS) claims examiner or your local Social Security office to ask them to contact DDS to be sure the SSDI examiner is aware the CDB has been reinstated. If you stopped work after a month due to your health, it is unlikely the work will have a negative affect on your SSDI claim.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • Dear Sam,

    You can apply now if you are unable to work in other occupations besides the one in which you were injured. If that is the case, the sooner you file the claim the better because it takes two to five months to get a medical decision and additional time to get payment started.

    Social Security is offset (reduced) by workers compensation (WC) if WC and SSDI benefits add up to be more than 80% of your Average Monthly Earnings (AME) as established by the Social Security Administration. If when the TTD benefits end, you get a permanent partial disability (PPD) settlement be aware that the settlement will result in reduction or complete suspension of SSDI benefits for at least some months and possibly a few years into the future. This means that you need to plan to use any WC settlement spread out over time to support yourself until the workers compensation offset against SSDI benefits ends and full SSDI benefits become payable.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • Dear Dorcas,

    I suggest that you request a copy of your claim file so you can see the exact reasons for the decision including how they understand the mental and physical requirements of your job. That will help you file an appeal, which would be appropriate if you are also unable to work in other occupations.

    If you appeal, I recommend that you hire an experienced Social Security attorney. When you hire a Social Security attorney, you do not have to pay any legal fees up front and you will pay attorney fees only if you are approved for benefits. Social Security law sets the amount the attorney can charge and the Social Security Administration pays the attorney directly from your back pay.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • Dear Candice,

    I suggest that you try to clarify what claim or claims is/are being evaluated medically because your worker’s compensation is probably too high for you to be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits and you have been told that you do not have enough work credits for Social Security Disability (SSDI), which would make you ineligible for SSDI. Perhaps they redetermined your work credits finding that you did have enough. (At age twenty-nine, you would need sixteen, but you would need to submit your 2016 W-2 to get credit for 2016 work because it’s too soon for it to process through the IRS.)

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • Dear Sam,

    Social Security’s definition of disability is “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted, or can be expected to last, for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” If you have been unable to work in any occupation enough to earn $1,130 gross in 2015 and 2016 or $1,170 in 2017, I suggest that you file a claim for Social Security Disability (SSDI) now while you have income during the SSDI claim processing period.

    Be sure to report receiving workers compensation because there is a workers compensation (WC) offset against (reduction of) Social Security Disability because the law limits the total amount of workers compensation and Social Security that you can receive for the same period. The maximum you can receive between the two benefits is 80% of your average current earnings as determined by the Social Security Administration (SSA ). Even with the offset, the two benefits together are usually higher than either of the benefits alone.

    In addition to Temporary Total Disability causing and offset, Permanent Partial Disability and workers comp lump sum settlement are prorated over a period of time prescribed by law. Proration means that the workers comp does not count all in the month received but is spread out usually according to what the weekly rate would be if you had been paid incrementally.

    The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses different formulas to calculate average current earnings. The formula used depends on your specific circumstances. If you are approved, you can contact SSA for information about how your average current earnings were calculated.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • Rae

    I have ssd my husband gets ssi…our house is paid for..could we do a reverse morgage with out losing anything

    • Dear Rae,

      Entering into a reverse mortgage will not affect either your Social Security Disability (SSD aka SSDI) or your husband’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI). With a reverse mortgage you are borrowing money and incurring a debt that must be repaid when you move out of the house or die. As such the money received is not a resource or income for SSI benefit determinations. The procedural manual reference should you need it is SI 01140.300 section D.3. viewable at https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0501140300.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Terrie

    I hurt my shoulder at work in 2012. Have had 4 surgeries and now have a metal ball and socket in my shoulder reversed. My employer demoted me and put me in housekeeping sweeping, mopping and other things that go against my permanent work restrictions. Now have lost most of the range in my left shoulder and loosing it in my right due to being overworked. Would I be eligible for disability if she fires me due to me not being able to do the job she shouldn’t have put me in to begin with?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Terrie,

      Yes, you can apply for disability even if you are fired. However, to be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, you must be disabled from all occupations that you could perform if you didn’t have your physical limitations. This includes the occupation you were in before you were demoted.

      An alternative to being fired would be to go see a doctor and if the doctor says you should not be doing your current job and takes you off work, you could file a workers compensation claim, which requires only that you be unable to do your current job. You can file both for workers comp and for Social Security disability, although your Social Security may be reduced as long as you had workers comp benefits.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Fernando Quintana

    I am on s.s.disability for the last 6 years on my review appointment they said that because now that I’m 62 need to file for early retirement. My retirement is at 66. If I retire now I loose my disability and can’t get Medicare till I’m 65. Until now I have received 7 different surgeries, I need my s.s.disability. Need some info. on my problem here.

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Fernando,

      The disability benefits you have been getting are likely Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. SSI law requires that the disabled person apply for and receive all other benefits that he or she is eligible for. Accordingly, you have to apply for reduced Social Security Retirement. If you do not, your SSI will stop. The reason for this is that SSI is intended to supplement other sources of income, not replace them.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

      Note that your child’s Medicaid (not Medicare) insurance is not dependent on SSI eligibility, so your child–and even you–might continue to be eligible for Medicaid. If not, I suggest that you investigate whether your family would qualify for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, which offers a government subsidy for Medicare premiums to assist individuals with low income.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • RAM

    Hi. I have Stage 4 cancer & it has metasizes.. I am receiving immunotherapy..
    I applied in May for disability but continue to work until June because I am a teacher.
    I was denied to due salary not health condition .. Should I get a SS disability lawyer to appeal the decision and stop fully working ?? I am scared to stop working & NOT GET PAID WAITING FOR A DECISION AGAIN… Help ???!!

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Ram,

      I need a bit more information to provide you with guidance on whether to appeal or file a new claim. If you had periods you were off work while getting treatment, please give me the start and stop dates you have been off work.

      Thank you,
      Kay

  • Diana

    Im 53. Started having feet pain at age 25. Stand all day on hard surface. Numerous plantar phisitis. Arthrius on top of foot. Bunion needs surgery .Very painful tendonitus all around foot. Heel spurs. A year ago had vein ablasion (70) and phebectomy on legs . One leg has not heeled properly has numbness that runs down to foot. One dr said i had lymphadema. Swelling in lower leg and foot. Has inflamation .This has been very painful. Still working and standing all day only because I cant afford to be off work. But the pain is so great cant do anything when I get home foot hurts so bad. Would I be able to get disability? Thanks. Been at the same job for 34 years.

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Diana,

      You will qualify for disability if you are unable to work in another occupation that does not require you to be on your feet all day. Your age and the length of time you have been in one occupation and the character of the occupation will be considered in making that decision as well as any sitting limitations you may have. It takes about two to five months to get a disability decision, so I suggest that you check with your employer to find out if you are covered by a short-term disability insurance policy that could provide income while you wait for a Social Security decision. Another possibility would be to reduce your hours so that you are earning less than $1,130 gross per month and apply for benefits while you are still working.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Elvira Godinez

    I have uncontrolled diabetes n iam n remission for nhl i been on remission for over a year n i dont have no energy n have drink medice for depression n pain pills for carpal tunnel i cant even walk for like 40 feet without getting tired …..do. Think i could qualify for ssi??

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Elvira,

      I am not able to predict whether you are disabled as defined by Social Security. If you think that you cannot work, for example, in a job that does not require walking, I suggest filing a claim to get a formal decision,

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Dee CM

    Hi I was retired from my civil service job for disability under the old CSRS system. I started receiving my social security at age 62 while my husband was still employed. My social security check is nothing, but my husband retired 2 years ago at full retirement age. Am I able to switch over to my husband’s social security at the higher rate?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Dee,

      You can receive benefits on your husband’s account if the wife’s benefit is higher than your own retirement benefit; however, it will be a reduced benefit because you took your own retirement at age sixty-two. If may also be reduced further if your CSRS retirement pension is based on earnings that were not taxed for Social Security because there is a maximum you can receive between the two benefits. All that said, I suggest that since you are already retired, you apply on your husband’s record to get a determination and benefit calculation. Start the application before the end of the month to avoid potential loss of benefits.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Ronald

    Hey I’m Ronald I’m 20 years old an back in 2013 I got in a car accident an it broke both bones in my leg an the shen bone ripped through my skin an there’s a metal plant an a metal rod in my right leg an need an my leg muscle tightness up an hurts when I strain my leg an it hard me to pick heavy thing up my nee gives out

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Ronald,

      You did not ask a question, but I assume you are wondering whether you might be eligible for disability benefits. If you have had or are expected to have a period of twelve months when you cannot work in any occupation that you could otherwise perform without your physical limitations, you might qualify for benefits at least for a limited period of time. If you became–or become in the future–able to perform work sitting down or standing but not straining your leg, then benefits would stop.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Hello ! if you’re 58 years old and only work last four years out of the last 10 years will you still collect early retirement. Please advise. Thank you !

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Lina,

      You can earn your work credits for Social Security Retirement benefits at any time in your life; there is not requirement to have worked in the ten years before retirement.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Hi ! I have had 2 back surgeries in past 10 years and lost sensation on my right leg. Left with numbness throbbing, painful nerve shooting down to my heel of my foot. Sometimes gets to the point that I can’t stand on my foot. My first surgery was 12/2010 and second surgery was in 3/2015 don’t know I’ve been out of work since 12/2014. Wondering If I’m qualified for permanent disibilty for after getting 2 plates and four screws in my back.

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Lina,

      I recommend that you file a claim this month and no later than the end of May to avoid potential loss of back benefits.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Marie N

    My husband has been disabled since 2006 and turned 66 this year, so his SSDI checks have now changed to regular retirement Social Security. I am receiving SSDI checks since April 2014…can I received the higher rate of my husband social security benefit since I have been considered disabled with copd and complication with diabeties

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Marie,

      If you are at least sixty-two years old, you will be eligible for spouse’s benefits if your reduced spouse’s benefit (reduced for taking it before full retirement age) is more than your own benefit. If you are eligible, the dependent benefit will be the difference between your current own disability benefit and what the depend benefit would be if you did not have a disability benefit.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Ray

    Hello I was in a car wreck a little over a year ago. I lost sight in one eye my taste and smell and some hearing in one ear. Just curious if I would qualify for permanent disability. I have returned back to work after 8 months of not working. Although I struggle with my energy levels now. Not sure what direction I can go. It is a work comp claim whereas I was on the job.

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Ray,

      If you get to the point that you cannot work and earn $1,090 gross per month in your current or past occupations (and, if you are under age fifty in a new occupation), then you can apply for Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits. I do not know whether your workers comp claim could be reopened.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • scottymartin

    I have had two back surgeries in the last eight years been out o work three monhs this time and not getting much better should I try to go back to work at light duty which my construction job has , basically none available or continue to get temporary benefits from workmans comp financially I am hurting and need full check but Im not sure if trying to work will affect full disability if I need it really don’t think I can work but the doctor is kinda leaving it up to me any help will be appreciated thanks

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Scotty,

      I really can’t advise you on the decision you have to make. I can tell you that if you return to work before you have been disabled for twelve months and work you work less than six months and stop again because of your back condition, the work might be considered an unsuccessful work attempt and not affect a Social Security Disability claim.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Cathy R

    I have been on social security disability since 2006 for PTSD, Major Depressive Disorder, and anxiety. I was asked to do a re evaluation just this year, 2015. I was denied and told my benefits would terminate in 2 months. However, I am not at a point where I can work. In the determination report it said I was being treated for Bipolar (which I have never had) and that my condition has improved and that I am now able to go to back to work. What do I do? I am no where near well enough to work? Is there a way to get partial assistance if my appeal is denied.

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Cathy,

      As you imply, you need to file an appeal as soon as possible. Try to find legal help to assist you. You can request a reconsideration or a hearing, skipping the reconsideration appeal, which is a file review. If you appeal so that Social Security receives your appeal within ten days of receiving the written notice of termination (fifteen days from the date on the letter), you can request continuation of benefits while the appeal is being processed up through a hearing decision. The request for continuation should be written on the appeal form.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

      Sincerely,
      Kay

      • Cathy R

        Thanks so much. I wanted to make sure I am using the right form for the appeal. Form SSA-3441-BK. Also where on the appeal form do I write for continuation of payments? On the front page in bold letters or on the comments line

        • Kay Derochie

          Dear Cathy,

          The SSA-3441 is a medical statement to accompany the base appeal request form. The appeal forms are SSA-561 if you decide to request a reconsideration or HA-501 if you decide to skip the reconsideration and go directly to a hearing. You need to complete one of those to go with the SSA-3441. You also need to complete an SSA-827 to authorize medical providers to release information for your appeal. You can request continuation of benefits anywhere on the form. Just be sure to call the attention to the request when you submit the forms.

          Sincerely,
          Kay

    • Roxanna Caldera

      I applied for disability laat year appealed it and now waitin for a court date .for ptsd.major depression .have me on bursporen.latura.seraquel.i been seein my therapist weekley .im not gettin better.have halusanations.hear voices paranoia .cant be around people scared do i have a good case would i be eligable for disability my court date is gonna take a year or longer what fo i do in the mean time

      • Kay Derochie

        Dear Roxanna,

        You may be eligible for benefits. While you are waiting for your hearing, continue to follow your doctor’s orders and stay under psychiatric care. I do not know if any interim financial assistance is available in your state. You might try talking with any mental health support services available in your area to learn if there is assistance available.

        Sincerely,
        Kay

        • Yes thanks .i live in california.i seen you put down i may be eligable for benifits while waitin for my court date.so with my mental disgnose i should be approved

          • You said i might be eligable for benifits before my court date .i live in state of california.i was wondering with my diagnoses. I would be approved for disability

            • Kay Derochie

              Dear Roxanna,

              Each agency has to make its own decision based on the law that applies. The best way to find out if you are eligible for California state disability insurance or other benefits is to apply.

              Sincerely,
              Kay

          • Kay Derochie

            You are welcome, Roxanna.

  • jada m

    A Jack hammer bit fell on my foot injured it only to be offered ice for a week before seeking help for the pain. Then the company sends me to even doctor only to get X-ray and pain meds and sent back to work with no broken bones. After becoming sick my doctor pulled me out of work. Started receiving short term disability and now a foot doctor have rendered. Me disabile and never do this job again. I have requested even claim be reopen. So can I receive both even and STD?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Jada,

      I do not know what you mean by “even claim.” I am not familiar with the term.

      If you have a short-term disability (STD) policy, the insurance company that administers your STD can tell you whether you can get STD and the benefit you refer to as “even claim.”

      Best regards,

      Kay

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