Social Security Disability benefits are intended to provide workers with income after they become unable to earn a living due to an illness, an injury or another condition. As we discussed in a recent blog post, one important term the Social Security Administration uses is “substantial gainful activity”: If you have a qualifying condition, and that condition prevents you from engaging in substantial gainful activity, then you may be eligible for SSD benefits.
To be eligible, the applicant must have a disabling condition that is expected to last at least 12 months. Indeed, many people who receive SSD benefits have permanent or terminal conditions.
When a condition improves
However, in some cases, a person’s condition improves to the point they are no longer disabled and they return to work. Once they are able to engage in substantial gainful activity again, they will lose their SSD benefits.
If you’ve been in that situation you know it’s a good outcome in many ways. Your health improved to the point where you could return to work, where you –hopefully — earned more than you received when your only income was through SSD benefits.
But what if, after a period of improvement, your condition gets worse? What if you find that, once again, you are unable to engage in substantial gainful activity? Do you have to start the whole process over?
If you have applied for SSD benefits, you know that this scenario we are discussing can be a bureaucratic nightmare.
The process of applying for SSD benefits is not easy. Most people who receive SSD benefits were rejected the first time they applied, and had to go through the Social Security Administration’s appeals process. The whole process can take months. Even if they are approved, applicants must go through a five-month waiting period before they see their first checks.
The thought of having to start over from the beginning may send cold shivers down your spine.
Fortunately, you may not have to start over from scratch. The Social Security Administration makes it easier for people to reapply for SSD benefits if they stopped receiving benefits within the previous five years.
This five-year rule applies if:
- You have not yet reached full retirement age.
- You have a qualifying condition.
- Before you became disabled, you had worked for five of the previous 10 years.
- You became disabled again at least five months ago.
- Before you became disabled again, you had received SSD benefits within the previous five years.
If you meet these criteria, you can start receiving benefits again. You may, once again, have to go through a waiting period. However, under some circumstances, you may be able to receive retroactive benefits to cover the time during which you were disabled but your benefits had lapsed.