Social Security

After Applying for Social Security Disability FAQ

By Aaron Hotfelder, Attorney

Q: Can child support be taken from my SSDI payment?

  • A: Yes, if you have an obligation to pay child support, it can be taken out of your Social Security disability check. But if you have children, they may be entitled to dependent benefits based on your earnings record, even if you do not live with them. You should have provided Social Security with your children's names, ages, Social Security Numbers, and addresses when you originally applied for benefits. (If you didn't, contact Social Security immediately to make sure there is no delay in receiving the dependent benefits.) If you receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) instead of SSDI, no child support can be withheld from your disability payment (and no dependent benefits are available under SSI). Read more on this topic here.

Q: Can I work and earn any income while on SSDI?

  • A: You are generally allowed to earn up to the substantial gainful activity (SGA) threshold, which is $1,130 in 2016. But there is also a trial work period (TWP),a period of time that allows you to try to work while still receiving disability benefits, during which time you can earn more. In 2016, earning at least $810 in a calendar month will count as a month of service toward your trial work period (TWP). Once you've used up all your TWP months (nine months over a rolling 60 month period), you will not receive disability payments in any month you earn over the substantial gainful activity threshold.

Q: I received a notice from Social Security saying it over paid me disability benefits. Do I have to return the money?

  • A: Yes, unless you appeal the decision and win the appeal. If the mistake was made by Social Security and it would be a hardship for you to repay the amount, you can apply for and potentially receive a waiver of the overpayment, meaning you would not have to repay the money. When you receive a Notice of Overpayment, explaining why you were overpaid, it will also include information on how to appeal or request a waiver. If you have questions or need help with your overpayment appeal or waiver request, contact a knowledgeable disability law attorney.

Q: Workers' comp has determined I am NOT disabled but Social Security has approved my SSDI application. How can that be?

  • A: The definition of "disabled" varies depending on the government agency or insurance carrier evaluating your case. Workers' compensation programs, the Veterans Administration, Social Security, and private disability insurance programs each have their own definitions of disability, and Social Security's definition is one of the most strict. Social Security defines disability as being unable to perform any "substantial gainful activity" (SGA) because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that is expected to last at least 12 months or cause death. If your workers' comp insurance company is saying you have no permanent disability, you can request a hearing or appeal the decision.

Q: My claim for Social Security disability was turned down. Now what?

  • A:

    In most cases, applicants are turned down automatically the first time they apply for benefits. When this happens, you should appeal the decision. The instructions on how to appeal should be included with the notice turning you down. The first stage of appeal will be either requesting a reconsideration or requesting a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (some states have eliminated the reconsideration step).

    You should consider hiring a disability lawyer to help with your appeal, as Social Security's rules and procedures for hearings can be complicated. There will usually be a vocational expert at your hearing, and the judge (and your lawyer, if you have one) will ask this expert whether there are any jobs that someone with your limitations can do. Making sure the judge has up­-to-­date medical records that prove your physical or mental limitations gives you the best chance of being awarded disability benefits. You’ll receive a decision several weeks to several months after the hearing.

    If you lose your hearing, you can make a written appeal to the Appeals Council and, if you're still unsuccessful, a lawyer can file a lawsuit in federal court for you.

Q: My condition has gotten worse. Can my monthly disability benefit amount be increased?

  • A: No, the amount of disability benefits paid through Social Security does not depend on how disabled you are. The monthly SSDI benefit is calculated based on your earnings record. For SSI, the maximum monthly amount is generally the same for all recipients (although it's supplemented in a few states), but it can be reduced by any income you have.

Q: Social Security stopped my disability benefits, now what should I do?

  • A: Assuming you disagree with Social Security's decision to end your benefits because you are still unable to work, you should file an appeal with the help of an experienced disability attorney. If you want your benefits to continue while the appeal proceeds, you should file your appeal within 10 days of receiving the termination notice. (But if you lose your appeal, you'll generally be required to pay the money back.) Otherwise, you have 65 days from the date of the termination letter to file your appeal. One of the most common reasons benefits are terminated is because the disabled person has stopped receiving medical treatment. For that reason, it's essential that you continue to see your doctor on a regular basis after you're found disabled.

Q: What's a "trial work period" for Social Security disability ?

  • A: A trial work period is an opportunity to try to return to work without jeopardizing your disability benefits. You are essentially allowed to earn over $810 per month for a total of nine months over a rolling 60-month period without affecting your benefits. But thereafter, any earnings over the substantial activity (SGA) limit, which is $1,130 per month in 2016, may cause your benefits to stop. After you exhaust your trial work period, if you are still working, a 36-month extended period of eligibility (EPE) begins. During the EPE, your benefits may be stopped and started again without your having to get another disability determination from SSA.

Q: Who's an Administrative Law Judge and what does an ALJ do?

  • A: An administrative law judge (ALJ) is an attorney employed by the Social Security Administration who is responsible for holding non-adversarial hearings on matters relating to Social Security, including eligibility for disability benefits. If you have an appeal hearing, an ALJ may ask you questions, discuss legal issues with your attorney, and request that you present additional evidence or undergo further medical examinations. Ultimately it is the ALJ who will decide whether your meet the medical and other criteria for disability benefits and will approve or deny benefits.

Q: Will my SSDI be reviewed? When? Could I lose my benefits?

  • A:

    Social Security performs continuing disability reviews (CDRs) of certain SSDI and SSI cases, and uses this reviews to terminate benefits where disability recipients no longer meet the eligibility criteria, often due to medical improvement. A review can happen as quickly as twelve months after you're approved for benefits, or it can be a number of years. Some cases are never reviewed.

    If, during your CDR, your medical records and examination show that there has been enough medical improvement that you could return to substantial gainful employment, your benefits will be stopped. If you disagree, you can appeal this decision, just as in the initial application process. If you file your appeal within ten days and request that your benefits be continued during your appeal, you will be paid your monthly benefits throughout the appeals process. But, if you ultimately lose your appeal, you'll be expected to repay the benefits. A good disability attorney can greatly improve your chances of maintaining your benefits in the case of a disability review.

For frequently asked questions about applying for benefits, see our FAQ on applying for disability.

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