If you become so severely disabled that you can no longer work and if you are granted Social Security disability benefits, you may wonder if you have to do anything to keep those benefits. The general rule of thumb is that if you remain disabled to the point you cannot work, you are entitled to disability benefits until you reach retirement age. Your benefits will not stop coming at retirement age. Instead, you will no longer receive “disability” benefits but rather “retirement” benefits. The name changes, but the benefits do not.
However, if your disabling condition improves to the point that you are able to make a living, your disability benefits may be suspended or stopped and you will be expected to work and earn your own way until you reach retirement age. In other words, Social Security disability is meant to cover any gaps in your working life that are caused by severe disability; not to insure any particular level of income. A lot of Social Security fraud is the result of disability recipients taking jobs to supplement their disability income, perhaps without realizing that the mere fact they are able to take the job disqualifies them as a disability recipient.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) reviews each disability recipient’s case periodically to make sure nothing in their medical situation has changed since disability benefits were granted. Currently, these medical reviews, called continuing disability reviews, are scheduled every three to seven years.
If you work after being granted disability benefits, it is important that you stay inside the SSA’s guidelines. If the SSA believes that you are working at a significant level and that you are earning more than the limit allowed, they are likely to conduct and unscheduled review of your situation. If they find that your condition has improved and that you are able to work and have not voluntarily contacted them to cancel your benefits, you will not only have to pay back the benefits paid to you, you will also likely face charges of fraud. It isn’t worth it.
Even those disability recipients who remain severely disabled can innocently run afoul of the system. For example, it is vitally important that you continue to see your doctors regularly after you get disability benefits. The SSA is likely to conclude that your condition has improved if it sees no evidence that you have kept up your doctors’ visits and medical treatments and you are likely to find your benefits canceled.
If your condition has actually improved to the point that the SSA believes you can hold down gainful employment, your benefits will be terminated at the end the review process.
That being said, the vast majority of severely disabled people who receive Social Security disability benefits remain severely disabled, have no trouble showing that they need the benefits they are receiving, and continue to receive their benefits, first as disability payment and then as retirement payments, without pause.