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Will my SSDI benefit continue for the rest of my life?

If you have recently been granted Social Security Disability benefits, you are probably experiencing a sense of relief after completing the process. But this may be replaced by a new set of anxieties: will my benefits run out or be taken away?

The Social Security Administration does not award partial or temporary benefits to recipients, as eligibility is strictly defined by law. The number of Americans who experience a disabling event has been increasing for years and will continue, due to an aging baby boomer population and the full participation of women in the workforce.

The agency aggressively investigates and prosecutes fraud, and to that end, eligibility reviews are one way that any potential abuses are detected and uncovered. Depending on the severity of your disability and the way that it has been classified by the agency, you will be subject to periodic eligibility reviews.

Three categories of improvement and eligibility review timelines

Disabled persons who receive SSDI benefits are eligible for benefits as long as they remain disabled. The law requires that eligibility be reviewed at certain time intervals, which are categorized by the likelihood of recovery. However, you should remember that if your health improves or you go back to work, there are certain ongoing reporting requirements.

Benefit categories are separated into three subsections: medical improvement expected, medical improvement possible and medical improvement not expected. The category your impairment has been placed within will determine how often you are subject to review.

  • Medical improvement expected: the agency has determined that you will eventually be able to return to work. Once your benefits start, you will be reviewed every six to eighteen months.
  • Medical improvement possible: rehabilitation of your injury is possible, but not necessarily expected. Your eligibility will be reviewed no earlier than three years from when you first received benefits.
  • Medical improvement not expected: the agency has determined that your impairment is unlikely to improve. However, you must still complete an eligibility review, the first of which will occur no earlier than seven years after payments began.

Even if the agency finds that you are capable of returning to work, if you disagree, the decision can be appealed. If you find yourself able to work despite no medical improvement of your condition and if the work earns you a "substantial" amount based on the Social Security Disability guidelines, then you may lose your eligibility.

A Social Security Disability benefit does not "expire." Rather, it continues until you are found to be able to return to work or until you reach the age of retirement, when it converts to a retirement benefit.

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