Returning to Work while on Social Security Disability Insurance

We’ve all heard the stories about people being spied upon while on some form of State or Federal disability benefit. As an attorney, I sometimes hear people tell me stories of themselves being really disabled and not like those other people. Fortunately, the SSDI program is designed to assist and encourage you in an attempt to return to work. You don’t have to worry about being spied upon or being reported by a neighbor. If you feel you might be able to work, even though you’re receiving benefits, you might want to give it a try. The program is designed to help you and here’s how, if you receive SSDI. Just remember to report your attempt to work, either through regular employment or through self-employment, to the SSA.

There is a provision called the Trial Work Period, or TWP. Under the TWP, you can work for up to 9 months, not necessarily consecutively, during any 60-month period once you’ve been found disabled. The TWP starts when you begin working and performing services that are compensable, or would be compensable if through self-employment even if your business did not pay you income. For example, if you work as a gunsmith for yourself and your business doesn’t earn any money, but this work would be compensable if you had been hired by as a gunsmith by someone else, the work you do is considered part of the TWP. What is important to know, however, is that your SSDI benefits will continue during this 9 month period regardless of how high your earnings during that period are so long as you report your work activity to SSA and you continue to have a disabling impairment.

It is important to know that your benefits will continue only if your medical condition remains disabling. The SSA may examine your medical file at any time and you may still be subject to termination of your benefits, even during the TWP, if they conclude your medical condition is no longer disabling. Unsuccessful attempts to return to work do not apply during the Trial Work Period. However, a medical review may not happen if you are participating in SSA’s Ticket to Work Program and you are using your Ticket (TTW).

If you do return to work and find that you are able to continue working at gainful employment (SGA), then your SSDI benefits will be ended. However, if your cash benefits stop because of work, and at any time within 5 years of when those benefits stopped you find you are again not able to continue working due to disability, then you can request an Expedited Reinstatement (EXR). You will be eligible for an EXR if you meet all of the following requirements:

  • Your previous entitled to SSDI benefits ended because you were earning SGA level earnings; or because of excess earned income or a combination of earned and unearned income;
  • You are not performing SGA level earnings in the month you apply for EXR;
  • You are unable to work at the SGA level due to your medical condition;
  • Your current medical impairment(s) is the same as, or related to, your original disabling impairment(s); and
  • You request EXR within 5 years from the month your benefits stopped.

If you meet these criteria and you apply for EXR, you may receive up to six months of temporary cash benefits while the SSA conducts their review of your case. You will not receive benefits, however, if you have been incarcerated during that period, are subject to a sanction penalty, you were deported, you are an alien living outside the USA; or you fail to provide a valid Social Security number.

The thing to remember about this is that SSDI is there to not only support you if you are disabled, but it is designed to assist you in attempting to work if you desire to do so. Just remember to report any income to SSA or attempt at self-employment and speak to a SSA representative, or an experienced attorney, about your rights and responsibilities should you desire to attempt to return to work.