Do Many People Lose Their Social Security Benefits After a Disability Update?

Social Security may require a doctor visit as part of a medical review.

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Social Security offers disability insurance to workers who have paid in to the system through their payroll taxes. If you've been approved for disability, you draw a monthly benefit that is calculated in the same way as the monthly pension Social Security pays to retirees. However, disability beneficiaries must go through periodic Continuing Disability Re-Evaluations, in which Social Security examines their records to decide if a return to work is possible.

Definition of Disability

Social Security sets down the guidelines for what it considers a disability; in general, you must have a condition that has lasted or is expected to last at least twelve months or that is expected to result in your death. The condition must prevent you from substantial gainful employment or retraining for another line of work. To prove a disability you must provide medical evidence from your treating doctors. During the claim process Social Security may also schedule an appointment for you to see a doctor, who determines if you meet the guidelines for disability.

Continuing Disability Re-Evaluation

A Continuing Disability Re-Evaluation takes place after you've been approved for disability. If your medical condition is expected to improve, the agency schedules the CDR 6 to 18 months after your disability benefits begins. If improvement is possible, but not expected, then the review takes place every three years. Social Security requests medical records from your doctors and may arrange another appointment. If the agency finds that your condition has improved, it may halt your disability benefits.

Returning to Work

About 95 percent of disability beneficiaries pass the CDR and remain on benefits. However, if a beneficiary does return to work, even part time, Social Security may decide, despite what the medical records say, that the condition has improved and benefits should be suspended. To trigger a review of this kind, the beneficiary must earn the substantial gainful activity (SGA) amount, which stands at $1,040 a month, before tax withholding, as of 2013; the SGA amount for statutorily blind individuals is $1740.


If Social Security decides that your condition has improved enough for you to return to work, your benefits stop after three months. You have the right to appeal this decision within 60 days after the agency issues it. The appeal process is similar to that for appeals on an initial disability claim itself. You need to file a Request for Reconsideration, which sends your file back to the Disability Determination Service that reviewed your medicals. If you receive a second denial, then you have the right to request a hearing -- again, within 60 days of the decision.