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I am disabled from a car accident, but I expect to return to work. Should I file for Social Security Disability benefits for a short term disability?

By   /  March 3, 2016  /  17 Comments

Get help deciding whether to file for Social Security disability benefits when you are off work because of an accident but expect to return to work.

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Watch the Video: “I am disabled from a car accident, but I expect to return to work. Should I file for Social Security Disability benefits?”

Social Security Application for a Short Term Disability

Whether or not you should file for Social Security Disability after being injured in an automobile accident depends on whether you meet Social Security’s definition of disability and on how long you expect to be disabled, long or short term.

How Social Security Defines Disability

Social Security defines disability for adults as “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to any medically determinable physical or mental impairment or impairments which can be expected to result in death, or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.”

In part, this means that you must be disabled not only from the job you were performing at the time of the accident, but also from other occupations you have performed in the past and, if you are under age fifty, from any other occupations you could reasonably perform. For additional discussion of Social Security’s definition of disability, including Substantial Gainful Activity, and how it is applied to your claim, please view our articles “What Is Disability According to Social Security Disability Law?” and “How Does the Social Security Administration Apply Social Security Disability Laws to Determine If I Am Disabled?”

Permanent Disability Not Required

Social Security doesn’t require permanent disability, but it does require you to be disabled for a period of not less than twelve months. This does not mean that you have to be off work completely for twelve months. Sometimes, people with short term injuries have to return to work in stages, starting with a few hours a week. If you return to work sooner than twelve months after the accident, but your work is part time and you are earning below Social Security’s substantial earnings level, then the months during which you are working may count towards the required twelve months.

Consult with Your Doctor

It can be helpful to talk to your doctor about when he thinks you may return to work. When asking his opinion, be sure to describe in detail how much of the day you have to stand and walk, how much weight you have to lift, how often you lift it, how often you have to bend or stoop. If you injured your arm, neck, or upper back, let him know how much of the day you have to use your arms, including time on a computer. If your job is performed seated, you will also want to describe how long at a time you are required to sit and whether or not you can get up or change positions from time to time. If you have had a head injury or are in substantial pain, describe the cognitive requirements of your work.

Sharing this information about your work duties will help your doctor give you an informed opinion about when you may be able to return to work in your most recent job and whether you will need to start part-time. It will not tell you whether you are disabled from other occupations, but it is a good place to start. Also, when in doubt, discussing your work history and your medical condition with a Social Security attorney can result in helpful guidance.

Finally, keep in mind that if you don’t apply now, and then your injuries keep you disabled longer than you initially thought, you can file for Social Security disability as soon as it looks as if you will be disabled for twelve months.

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  1. Mary Charbonneau says:

    Can you draw short term disability from your job plus social security retirement 66

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Mary,

      You may be able to draw both short-term disability (STD) and Social Security Retirement (SSR). If you have been receiving STD and now apply for SSR, the STD may be reduced. On the other hand, if you were receiving SSR and working and then became disabled and drew STD, there may be no STD reduction for the retirement benefit. I suggest that you get and review a copy of your STD insurance policy to review the provisions.


  2. Ginger says:

    Hi, my 18 year old was in a car accident. Went to hospital for injuries, which include a hurt leg and injuries to the arm. Has a doctor who said it proably would be a month until you were able to return to work. It’s a dishwasher position and is unable to perform the duties. Can we fill some kind of disability?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Ginger,

      Check with your local state or county social services offices to see if temporary disability benefits are available in your area. Although it may be a long shot in the service industry, your son can check with his employer to see if he is covered by a short-term disability policy. If he lives alone or buys his own food, he could apply for SNAP (formerly called food stamps).


  3. Rachel Fagen says:

    I was in a bad car accident in December my head went through the driver side window shattering it to pieces. the police on the scene declared it was the person who rear ended me at fault. I have a brain injury, PTSD, soft tissue damage, depression and anxiety from it. I was left with severe migraines I can’t stand for longer than an hour and I can’t look at a screen for longer than 45 minutes I can’t lift anything above 25 LBs either. This is the second car accident I have been in and all the progress from the first one has been erased as well I re-injured all the soft tissue damage i had. trying to figure out how to go about and if im eve eligible for disability. I am a self-employed fashion photographer so I cant collect any benefits from work.
    please help :/

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Rachel,

      I suggest that you file an application for disability benefits. You can find information on how to do so in the articles under the “Apply SSD” tab at the top of this webpage. Because you have a brain injury, it might be good to have someone help you with the process.


  4. John Catalano says:

    Hello I was in a accident and have two broken feet. I am unable to work and am non weight baring doctors orders. I cant work and now have no income. I asked my lawyer about short term disability and at first told me I cant but I did my own research and I think I can but he told me it would affect my case. He said What ever disability pays me I have to pay back with my settlement on top of the fact it will drastically drag out the time it takes for me to receive my settlement. My questions are is what he is telling me true, and Because I may not be out of work for a full year he said i cant get it because its not permenant? I dont understand Isnt temporary disability for temporary injury…. Isnt that the whole entire point?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear John,

      You may be eligible for short-term disability through your last employer or the state or auto insurance policy; however, I can’t comment on the impact of a disability claim on your accident lawsuit. I can tell you that Social Security and Supplemental Security Income pay disability benefits only if you are expected to be disabled for twelve months. If you don’t recover for work within twelve months, you can consider a claim at a later point.


  5. Shanisha Robinson says:

    Hello I was in a car accident last year Nov,2014 and I been off work since then getting a check from my insurance company so this week I had to go see the insurance company doctor that’s going to determine if I’m physically able to go back to work that being said there’s a possibility that they would stop my lost wages but my doctor is telling me that I’m not ready yet, so I want to know if they stop sending me a check can I file for short term disability.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Shanisha,

      If you have been disabled since November 2014, it would be appropriate to apply for Social Security Disability. If you are insured, benefits would begin to accrue May 2015. If you live in a state that has short-term state disability insurance, you can investigate whether benefits are payable form those sources also.


  6. Mark Johnson says:

    Hello. I live in Minnesota. I was in a severe car accident on my way to work the morning of Feb 6, 2014. I had previously signed up for short term and long term disability through my employer. This is not a work comp case. Because of my injuries I still have not returned to my regular job duties. Obtaining light duty work from my employer that fits my doctor restriction was hard to come by. My employer also does not feel obligated to find me work. Any light duty work is given to work related injured employees first. I used sick time to supplement my short term disability during the first 3 months to give me a normal size paycheck. Long term disability then kicked in. The LTD was through CIGNA. They made me apply for Social Security Disability. It is now October 2015. I have been receiving LTD since June of 2014. Just this week I finally received my SSD with back pay this week. It was a substantial amount. It was directly deposited into my checking. The CIGNA policy I have states that I must forfeit this money to them. I have not had to pay any taxes on my LTD thus far. If I send CIGNA a check for this amount from SSD will I somehow still have to pay any income tax? I also expect to return to my regular job duties in the next 45 days.

    • Mark Johnson says:

      I have to add that while I was working I was a workaholic. Consistently working 12-16 hours of overtime a week for years. So being reduced to what I receive in LTD has created a financial hardship. Getting by on what LTD pays and the wife’s regular income has been difficult.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Mark,

      The question you have is really for the IRS, but I will venture the opinion that you will have to pay taxes on the Social Security. However, not all of the Social Security may be taxable; it will depend on how high your total income (or your and your spouse’s income if you are married) is in 2015.


  7. Brenda says:

    My son recently had a near fatal car accident. He is unable to work at the time due to physical injuries and cognitive lapses. He is undergoing cognitive rehabilitation and physical healing. He did not have short term disability. Is there any kind of help we can get him while he is out of work with no pay?

    Thank you,

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Brenda,

      If your son has been or is expected to be disabled for twelve months, he can apply for Social Security Disability. Even if the doctor simply says he doesn’t know when he will be able to work, he can file a claim.


  8. Tiffany Smith says:

    Hi i was in a car accident on august 9 2013.I was rear ended i am going to the doctor now but they can’t take x-ray now because i am pregnant they said that i would have to wait to do everything after the baby is born. I am having major back pain neck and shoulder pain i am not working now.I just wanted to no what i should do.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Tiffany,

      To be eligible for Social Security Disability (SSD) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) you must be disabled for twelve months or be expected to be disabled for twelve months. I suggest that you discuss your condition with your physicians to get their opinions on whether you might be disabled that long. If you are not receiving sick pay from your employer, you might check with the human services department of your state or county to see if you would be eligible for assistance given your injury and pregancy.

      Best regards,


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