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Once we are successful in obtaining your Social Security Disability benefits, can you lose them?

July 11, 2016

By Shelley W. Elovitz, Esq.

Social Security is a safety net for millions of Americans, either for retirement, disability or for the survivors of a qualified deceased family member.  But there are at least two situations when those benefits could be cut off.  In terms of our practice those ways are:

1.     Continuing medical improvement

2.     Earning more than $1,090 a month (in 2015), or sometimes less, can cause you to lose disability benefits.

We may have obtained Social Security Disability benefits for you because a serious injury or illness made you unable to work for in excess of 12 months and thus qualified you for Social Security Disability benefits for which we obtained an award.

However, based on the continuing medical review that Social Security seems to be conducting in an abundant effort to curtail benefits, we find that Social Security is saying that you have recovered from these injuries and/or illnesses and are able to go back to some kind of gainful employment whether or not that was within your past relevant work.

Social Security is assessing disability insurance award recipients every 2 – 7 years and they have a legitimate right to seek an authorization from you to obtain medical records from your doctors.  What they are looking for is continuing medical improvement.  Evidence of continuing medical improvement is as follows:

  • You stop receiving medical treatment
  • Your medical records indicate that you in fact are telling your treating health care providers that you are better

But often the opposite is true.  Many patients stop seeing doctors because they have given up hope due to the continuing problems stemming from serious medical conditions and/or they cannot afford continuing care.  Or the doctors are telling them there is nothing else we can do for you so you do not need to see us.  Or they put on a happy face when the doctor or the doctor’s staff ask them how they are doing when in fact that happy face is a mere mask of continued pain and disability.

We counsel our clients that it is obviously better to try to go back to work and add to your Social Security account, especially if you are young.  Earning more than $1,090 a month can dovetail with lack of seeing a doctor or masking your condition before the doctor and then Social Security will conclude that you are able to go back to work and will try to cut off your benefits.

The other ways in which Social Security can be stopped, which we do not handle but which you should be aware of, are:

  • The IRS can take a 15% levy to satisfy delinquent tax debt;
  • No matter how long ago you went to school, student loan debt can result in a reduction of benefits;
  • Federally backed home loans can result in a garnishment of your Social Security benefits;
  • Unpaid child support and/or alimony can lessen your Social Security Disability Insurance benefits; or
  • Jail or prison time or a felony conviction may also result in a cessation of your Social Security Disability benefits.

Consequently, a word to the wise is sufficient.  I am always happy to litigate your case again but that means you will have pay us again (subject to the approval of the Social Security Administration).  We would rather see you not have your benefits terminated if you really cannot engage in gainful employment, you would miss work more than three times a month and you would be working in excruciating pain.

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