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

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Learn how you can get any of the kinds of Social Security disability benefits when your disability is not permanent and see why it can be a good idea to apply for benefits even though you expect to recovery from your disability.

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. Some people incur serious injuries in an accident that require serial surgeries, but they recover and return to work in little over a year. Others have experienced medical recovery many years into disability when a new treatment has become available. In any event, Social Security law only requires you to be disabled for twelve consecutive months. So, you definitely are not promising to be disabled forever. (A detailed discussion of when “twelve consecutive months” are not consecutive can be found in our article What Is Disability According to Social Security Law? )

Advantages of Applying for SSDI When Disability Is Not Permanent
Even if you expect to be disabled for only a little longer than twelve months and even if you have other income, it can be helpful in the long run to have applied and been approved for Social Security Disability because of the disability freeze. Any year that you have little or no earnings due to disability and you are entitled to Social Security Disability in those months, the low or no earnings year will be omitted from the calculation of your Social Security Retirement (SSR) benefit. This means that after you have returned to work and reached retirement age, your SSR benefit will not be dragged down by a period of disability.

Medical Recovery
If you recover medically, you are responsible for reporting recovery, and your benefits will stop. For that reason, if you are released to return to work or otherwise become aware of recovery, it is important to report the change right away to avoid overpayment. Benefits can also be terminated when medical recovery is determined as the result of a Continuing Disability Review (CDR), which can occur after three, five, or seven years of benefits or after a much shorter period of time if recovery is expected to be soon after approval.

Working One’s Way Off Disability
If after twelve months of disability, you have not recovered fully but want to try to work, you may be eligible for one of Social Security’s several work incentives, which allow work while receiving benefits and hopefully assist you in transitioning back into full employment. Our article Can I Keep Getting Social Security Disability Benefits While I Try Working? goes into detail about the return-to-work incentives as they relate to continuing payment, suspended payment, and termination of benefits.

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