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Should You Give Up On Your Social Security Disability Claim If Your Health Improves?

Posted on :October 12, 2016Byjpadmin

One myth circulating about Social Security disability payments is that the person receiving them would be required to pay the money back to the U.S. government if they get better.  This is absolutely not the case.

Far too many Social Security disability applicants make the mistake of giving up on their disability claims if their condition improves. This mistake can cost thousands of dollars to the Social Security disability applicant.  Even if you have experienced significant improvement in your physical and mental state, you should still go to your disability hearing before the administrative law judge. Outside certain unusual circumstances such as fraud, it is highly unlikely that you would be expected to repay any of the disability income that you were entitled to receive.  In cases where a person does get better after being disabled, the Social Security Administration treats this time as a “closed period” of disability.

A closed period of disability occurs when a Social Security Administration representative determines a person was eligible to receive disability benefits for a period of time in the past, but is not eligible to receive disability benefits in the future.  Put simply, the person was previously unable to work and met the Social Security Administration’s disability requirements during for a certain period of time, but since then the person got better and can now go back to work again.

A closed period of disability usually occurs when a person has shown significant, substantial, and consistent improvement in their physical or mental conditions.  These closed periods of disability also regularly happen due to the substantially long period of time it takes an applicant to go through the disability appeals process before having their disability claim conclusively decided by an administrative law judge.


Consider an applicant who applies for Social Security disability benefits based primarily upon a bad back injury. The applicant’s severe back problems have lasted for well over one year and prevent the person from working as well as performing many daily living activities.  After the injured person’s application for Social Security disability benefits is rejected at the state level, the applicant requests a hearing in front of an administrative law judge.  In the meantime, the applicant has another surgical operation on their back that is extremely successful.  Through medical treatment and physical therapy, the applicant improves to the point where they are capable of working again (although with significant restrictions on their performance).

By the time the applicant’s date with the administrative law judge finally arrives, the person is able to work and may even have found a job.  After reviewing the medical evidence, hearing the Social Security disability attorney’s arguments, and listening to the applicant’s testimony, the administrative law judge may decide that the applicant has recovered to the point that they are not disabled and are no longer entitled to Social Security Disability payments.  However, the judge may also determine that the applicant was in fact disabled for well over one year, starting at the time the applicant injured their back and ending a certain period of time after the applicant’s most recent back surgery.  During this period of time between the injury and the date after the last back operation, the applicant was entitled to disability benefits and would be paid these previously owed benefits for this period of time.

Full Disclosure Needed

Well before the hearing, you should speak with your Social Security disability attorney about your condition, your history of physical and mental improvement, and whether you have made any attempts to return to the workforce.  Even if these attempts to return to work failed because of your physical and mental limitations, it is important to discuss both your improvement and your efforts to find work with your attorney.  This information can help your attorney argue successfully for a closed period of disability.  Without this information, your Social Security disability attorney may be surprised by facts known by you and the administrative law judge.  This surprise and need to suddenly change tactics in the middle of the hearing could limit your attorney’s effectiveness in securing even a closed period of disability benefits for you.

At the hearing, you should be sure to tell the administrative law judge how your injuries limited your physical and mental abilities to function and the progression of your improvement.  If helpful, you should try to organize your notes and own thoughts to help put together a timeline of your condition, starting at the time of your disability. Having a coherent story of your recovery can help your Social Security disability application in several ways.  Most importantly, a clear and consistent statement about your disability and improvement makes your statements more believable to the administrative law judge. Trying to hide the fact that you have improved despite the medical evidence available could make the administrative law judge doubt your testimony and whether you were ever truly disabled at any time. While the administrative law judge will likely focus on the medical records and the opinions of healthcare providers, your testimony may help the administrative law judge determine that you were in fact disabled for a certain period of time and that you are eligible to receive disability benefits for that period.

If the administrative law judge does make a determination that you were disabled for a closed period of time, you should know in advance that you will not receive Social Security disability payments for the entire closed period.  While you will be entitled to a back payment of Social Security disability benefits, the Social Security Administration does have an established waiting period included in the disability application process.  This waiting period lasts for five months and begins on the first day you are determined to be disabled by a representative of the Social Security Administration (referred to as the “established onset date”).  While this waiting period will reduce the amount of money you will inevitably receive from the Social Security Administration, you are still likely to receive a substantial amount of money from the remaining period of time that you were disabled. These Social Security disability payments could mean thousands of dollars to help you with your expenses during the time that you were in fact disabled.

The closed period for Social Security disability benefits is a very good reason to show up for your disability hearing, regardless of your current physical and mental condition.  Be sure to speak with your disability attorney if you have questions about how any improvement in your physical or mental conditions will affect your Social Security disability claim.


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