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What is a Social Security disability review?

Receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) today doesn't necessarily mean you'll still be eligible tomorrow. Social Security defines disability in part as an illness or injury that prevents you from being able to work for at least a year. If your condition improves to the point where you can go back to work, benefits are supposed to stop.

For that reason, the Social Security Administration (SSA) conducts a periodic check-in, called a continuing disability review (CDR), to ensure you still have a condition that keeps you from earning a livelihood.

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In a CDR, a disability examiner and medical consultant from Social Security go over your case to see if there has been any medical improvement since you started receiving benefits, or since your last review. You'll be required to provide certain medical information, including details on recent treatment, contacts for your doctors, and patient record numbers for medical centers and hospitals that treated you.

The reviewers will seek information from your health care team about your condition, how it affects you and how it's being treated. They may ask you to undergo a medical exam or test, which Social Security pays for. They'll also want to know if you have been working while receiving SSDI or SSI and, if so, how much you have earned.

The frequency and timing of disability reviews depends on how Social Security categorizes your long-term prognosis.

  • Medical Improvement Expected: You'll have a review 6 to 18 months after the start of benefits.
  • Medical Improvement Possible: You'll typically get a review every three years.
  • Medical Improvement Not Expected: Reviews are normally conducted no sooner than every seven years.

The initial award notice you get when your claim for benefits is approved will tell you when to expect your first review.

Reasons your benefits could stop

If the SSA reviewers conclude that you remain disabled, your benefits continue. But if they determine that your condition has improved enough for you to work, your payments will stop approximately two months after the decision.

You could also lose benefits if Social Security finds that:

  • You haven't followed a doctor-ordered treatment regimen that could lead to medical improvement.
  • You gave false information when you first applied for disability benefits.
  • You aren't cooperating with the examiner investigating your case.
  • You are able to work due to job training you've received or advances in medical treatment or vocational technology.

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Your payments can also end if you are already working and your earnings exceed limits set by Social Security for disability beneficiaries.

In 2024, the earnings cap for someone receiving SSDI is $1,550 per month ($2,590 for blind beneficiaries). For SSI, the formal limit is $943 per month, but taking into account Social Security's complex rules for counting income for SSI eligibility, the effective cap is $1,971 if your only income is earnings from work.

Keep in mind

  • If you lose your disability benefits following a CDR, you can appeal the decision. You have 60 days from the date you received the termination notice to file an appeal. If you appeal within 10 days, your benefits can continue until there is a final ruling on your case, but you may have to repay that money if the revocation of benefits is upheld.
  • You will not be subject to medical reviews of your disability if you are participating in Ticket to Work, an SSA program that provides training, referrals and other employment services to disabled beneficiaries seeking to return to the labor force.

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