What Happens if I am Able to Return to Work Before my Social Security Disability Claim is Determined?

A. The Social Security disability process is often lengthy, sometimes taking three (3) years or more for a final decision. Claimants typically go through an initial application, a Reconsideration appeal, and an Administrative Law Judge hearing before a favorable decision is reached. During this time, some claimants may experience an improvement in their condition, enabling them to return to gainful employment before the disability claim is fully processed.

If the Social Security Administration determines that you were disabled, but your condition improved during the waiting period, you can still be awarded disability benefits for the established date of onset until the time you became able to work again. This period is referred to as a “closed period benefit,” and it requires the disability to have lasted at least twelve (12) months.

However, any retroactive pay for the closed period benefit will be subject to the five (5) month disability waiting period, and the Social Security Administration deducts these five months from the disability pay. For instance, if you were found disabled for fifteen (15) months, you would receive disability pay for only ten (10) months. This rule doesn’t apply to retroactive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments.

Claimants who can return to work are more likely to receive disability awards for the closed period benefit. The Social Security Administration assumes less risk in awarding benefits for a limited period than for ongoing disabilities that might continue for decades or until reaching Social Security retirement age. If you’re able to return to work, the period you were found disabled will not be considered in determining your future work credits, which could affect the amount of Social Security retirement income you receive.