Social Security permits a return to work without jeopardizing disability benefits — at least for an initial period of time. That period of time, known as a “trial work period” (as of 2010-11, any month in which earnings are more than $720 from work activities), is 9 months long and can be interspersed with periods of non-work (or, at least, of not generating more than $720 a month in income). After the trial work period, SSD benefits will be continued automatically, without reduction, for an additional 3 months.
If the nine months of trial work occur within a 60-month period, your case will be reviewed at the end of the ninth month. Social Security will assess whether you continue to be “disabled from any substantial gainful activity.” If your earnings are consistently “substantial” (as of 2011, more than $1000 a month), this will be considered suggestive, but not conclusive, that you are no longer disabled by Social Security standards.
After the trial work period and additional 3 months of disability benefits, Social Security permits a 36-month Extended Period of Eligibility, during which an SSD benefit will be awarded in any month that earnings fall below $1000 (in 2011) and you are deemed by Social Security to be disabled. No reapplication or additional waiting period is required to receive this benefit. In any month that earnings are above $1000 (in 2011) or Social Security determines you are not disabled, no SSD benefit will be paid.
It should be kept in mind that all Impairment Related Work Expenses (that is, the cost of any item or service necessary to overcome your disability and work) may be deducted from monthly earnings during the Extended Eligibility Period. Expenses must be “reasonable” and only those that have not been reimbursed will be counted against earnings. These can include special travel costs, non-medical appliances (such as wheelchairs, posture chairs, etc.), and medical charges. Routine drugs and routine medical services (including diagnostic procedures) are deductible to the extent not covered by health insurance, paid for out-of-pocket, and necessary to control a disabling condition, thereby enabling work.
An SSD benefit claim is terminated at the end of the Extended Eligibility period if Social Security determines you are no longer disabled at that time. If subsequent disability occurs, full reapplication is required to receive benefits. However, if disability restarts within the first five years after the end of the Extended Eligibility period and your claim is approved, there is no waiting period.
For more complete information (and updated figures for trial work and substantial gainful activity earnings), connect to Social Security’s website: “WorkingWhile Disabled” at www.socialsecurity.gov
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