How to Be Prepared for a Social Security Disability Review

Robin Mead

Every so often, Social Security will contact you to conduct a review.

There are three kinds of reviews you may get:

Disability Update Report – This is a quick, short form they send to some people. They use this form to decide if they want to do a Continuing Disability Review. It only takes five minutes. It is often called the “short form.”

Continuing Disability Review – This is a full medical review. They will look at your medical records to decide if you are still disabled. It is often called the “long form.”

SSI Financial Redetermination – This is done over the phone. It is only for people on SSI (not SSDI). This is not a medical review. This review looks at your finances to decide how high your SSI check should be and if you are eligible for SSI.

How Often Do I Get Reviewed?

Disability reviews generally happens every 3 or 5 or 7 years. The review cycle is different for each person, and reviews are sometimes late. Sometimes years late.

If you don’t know what your review cycle is, you can call Social Security and ask. If you have gotten a short form Disability Update Report, you can also check out your secret code that will tell you your review cycle.

SSI financial reviews are totally different and happen on their own magical and mysterious timeline. It is often once a year, but seems to vary quite a bit by state.

Will I Be Reviewed Forever? 

Once you reach full retirement age you will no longer get disability reviews. Your monthly check will just continue without change. If you are on SSI, you will still have financial reviews.

Many readers report that as they got close to retirement age their reviews became infrequent or stopped.

What Happens During a Medical Review?

Social Security has special policies that make passing a disability review easier than getting approved in the first place.

When you go through a review, they will first look at the condition you were approved for. If you still have that condition, you are in regular treatment, and your condition has not improved, in cases a review will pass with no problems.

However, if your records indicate that your original condition has improved, then they may to do a more detailed review of all your records, similar to when you first applied. At that point, they will also consider any new other conditions you have developed.

What Do They Look for in My Medical Records?

According to the policies for medical reviews, Social Security will look for the following:

💮 You are seeing a doctor regularly (whatever amount your doctor recommends)

💮 You are being treated for the condition you were approved for

💮 You are following your doctor’s treatment suggestions. Your records don’t say “non-compliant.”

💮 Your medical records say that you are still impaired or still having symptoms. (Ideally, they will indicate if your symptoms are severe).

💮 Your medical records do not say this condition has “improved”

There are some exceptions to these rules. For example, some people have reasons why they cannot stay on medications prescribed by their doctor. Learn more about this here: How to Please the Social Security Gods

How Are Disability Reviews Different Than New Applications?

💮 When you first applied, you needed to prove that you were disabled. This is difficult to do and can take many years.

💮 When you are reviewed, you do not need to prove you are disabled all over again! They already know you are disabled. You just need medical records showing that you still have the same condition and that condition has not improved. They will also look to see that you are in regular treatment.

If Your Original Medical Condition Has Improved

💮 If your condition has improved somewhat, but your records show that it is still severe and disabling, Social Security should still consider you disabled.

💮 If your original condition is no longer severe, Social Security will move on to considering any other diagnosis or condition you may have developed. It is more difficult, but still possible, to get approved this way. It will help if you can supply as much strong documentation as possible. Here’s a page on starting a new application. Even though you are not starting a new application, everything on this page can also help your review of new medical conditions: How to Be a Superhero

If You are Working, in School, or in a Work Program

💮 Please take a look at some of the Social Security rules and regs around working that may be helpful to know.

💮  Also check out: How to Handle Disability Reviews While Working

💮 If you are in school, it’s a good idea to keep a written record of any disability accommodations that you got. Your school’s disability services office can assist you with this.

💮 If you have been in any kind of vocational rehabilitation or ticket to work program, they may collect and read the files from that program, so please make sure that everything you say (to anyone there at any point) is accurate and honest.

Preparing for Disability Reviews

How to Keep Up Great Doctor Visits

💮 It will be a huge help if the records from your doctor’s visits all accurately reflect your condition. Please read.

“How I Have Great Doctor Visits”

💮 Great tips and suggestions from readers

How to Collect Your Medical Records (Including Secret Treatment Notes)

💮 Social Security will look to see if your records show that your condition has or has not improved. It may be helpful to see for yourself what your records say.

What Happens if I Don’t Read All My Medical Records?

💮 If you think that last section is not that important, read this and you will instantly change your mind.

Choosing a Doctor

💮  Social Security has some special doctor rules called Acceptable Medical Source

💮  It is much easier to pass a review if your doctor is an Acceptable Medical Source.

💮 If your doctor is not an acceptable source, it is still possible to pass a review, but they will usually send you to be evaluated by a Social Security doctor before any decision gets made.

💮 If you have more than one doctor, it is OK if one is an acceptable source and one isn’t. It helps if you have good medical records from the one who is.

💮 The acceptable medical source rules changed in 2017. You will need to follow the rules based on when you first applied. See link above.

💮 When choosing a doctor it is a really (really!) good idea to collect and read their treatment notes so you can see if this doctor is able to accurately record your condition.

Tips for Avoiding Trouble

💮 If possible, keep copies of all your own medical records. Doctor’s offices will not keep your records forever and sometimes a practice can move or close or purge old files. Some people lose their records this way.

💮 Don’t rely on online records or visit summaries. Request your full records with all treatment notes.

💮 Ask your doctor her plans for retirement or relocation. This will give you time to plan ahead so you can find a good new doctor and don’t have a gap in treatment (Social Security will look to see that you are in regular treatment).

💮 If you move, it is super important to give Social Security your new address and confirm that it is updated in their system. If you come up for disability review and the paperwork is sent to the wrong address, you could get cut off and it may take months to get your check started again.

💮 It is a good idea to check your mail regularly, or ask someone to check it for you. If there is a problem with your review, you may be given a very limited time to respond.

💮 If you are homebound and have difficulty walking to your mailbox, here is an idea: Victoria Gets Mail Delivered to Her Doorstep

The Review!

There are two different reviews you can get. You may be sent one or both:

How to Complete A Disability Update Report

How to Complete a Continuing Disability Review Report

Most reviews are approved without problem. If your review is not approved, don’t panic. You can appeal and most appeals are successful: How to Appeal a Continuing Disability Review

Success story: Wisteria Gets Her Disability Benefits Back

What Do You Think? 

Please comment below with stories, ideas, questions or suggestions. Please let us know if any links on this page stop working. 

Updated May 2018. If you found this page helpful, please share it with others by pressing one of these magic little buttons: 

14 thoughts on “How to Be Prepared for a Social Security Disability Review”

  1. I’m currently avoiding reviews by maintaining my status as a client of a local vocational organization. However, to remain a client I have to continue to be in school. So far it’s been going OK, but my health is deteriorating again. I do not know if I will stay well enough to complete my studies. If I have to drop out, I am liable to receive a review.
    Unfortunately, I was approved for Conversion Disorder. Finally, over two years after I applied, I have an accurate diagnosis. I am not being treated for conversion disorder, though I have weekly therapy for PTSD, GAD, and depression (secondary on my application). Instead, it turns out I have a mast cell disease, which was never mentioned on my application as I hadn’t even heard of the disease yet.
    Is there a way to rectify the incorrect diagnosis? Will doing so put my SSDI and SSI in jeopardy?


  2. Hi lia,

    Excellent questions.

    I think you are doing the right thing by staying in regular treatment and SSA will look at that with your next review.

    I cannot say exactly how Social Security will view your review, but I am wondering if they may have considered your conversion disorder to fall under the category of mental health? Since you are still in treatment for mental health that would be good. 🙂

    It might be helpful to give them a call and see if they can look in the computer to see what exactly they have you listed as being approved for.

    Bottom line: the best thing to do is just keep up good, accurate medical records. social security will also request and review your file from the vocational program so you would like those records to also be an accurate reflection of your disability.

    Is your therapist a psychologist or psychiatrist? That would also help.

    hope it goes great ❤


  3. Someone referred me to your site. I’m so glad they did!

    My first application was approved in late 2013. (Yeah I know. A miracle, right?) I still have most of my conditions but I’ve improved some. I lost some weight but am still considered morbidly obese. The improvements I have made haven’t made much of an impact. I have a TTW open. I found a full time job but had to go part time for health reasons; my diagnosis of fibromyalgia in early 2015.

    I live in fear of losing my benefits. I appear to have improved but fibromyalgia had rendered those improvements meaningless. Any advice you might be able to give me would be much appreciated.


    1. Thanks for writing. Do you know what conditions you were approved for? If you are not sure, it might be helpful to call and ask.

      That is great that you are able to work and trying to work.

      What I have seen from others is: TTW is well-designed for people who are trying to move towards working full time and transitioning off their benefits. But it is not an ideal program for people who continue to be disabled and need to work part time or intermittently stay on disability. There are work requirements in this program. Do you feel that you are working enough hours to be able to continue to stay in the TTW program?

      If you feel that your condition has improved but your fibro is disabling, it may be helpful to start seeing a rheumatologist, and to talk to your rheumy about your disability.

      A few of the rules and reg around working while on disability. Hope this helps. ❤


  4. I am currently in the mist of a ling form cdr I have been seeing doctors very regular over the years. I know one doctor is very supportive of my condition and feels I cannot work. My question to you is asking for copies of my medical records… I am very Leary to do that because I do not want my doctors to think I am checking to be sure they will support my disability. I fear by asking to have copies or to read them may make them feel I am checking up to be sure they will put whats needed to stay on ssdi. Make sense??


  5. Thank you so much, Sleepygirl, for posting this information. SSDI Review- the concept just scares the hell out of me. I just went through first step- the one sheet form with six questions that determines whether they do a full review. It says no other information is necessary other than the one sheet, but I’m trying to b e proactive this time. I’m in for treatment resistant mood disorder/Bipolar Mixed state, so I asked my therapist and my psychiatrist, both of whom I see weekly, to give me 1-2 paragraphs on letterhead giving a high level review of my condition, changes in condition, and working. I sold it to them as the first paragraph of what they’ll need to write if review goes forward, and possibly cutting off the review before it starts. Mailed about 2 weeks ago and haven’t heard anything back yet. If any are interested in this strategy’s outcome, I’ll cover it in when I get a response (the site should be up by 20JULY).

    I wanted to note that SS puts everyone on a 1, 3, 5, or 7 year review cycle. If you think you aren’t on such, it is probably due to the budget cuts to Social Security. They cannot keep enough staff on to do the reviews according to the schedule they set. I’m on a 3 year cycle (which is the longest I think they let anyone with psychiatric disability go without review), and I got the letter referenced above at about 4.5 years.

    I also wanted to note for people that the reviews for SSDI and SSI could be looking at very different things than other social services you are in. My mix of Federal, State, and County support is all looking at different criteria, and sometimes they have a bit of conflict. For instance, to qualify for my State’s medicaid I am in a program called Employed Individuals with Disabilities. It requires work, and while the stated minimum is 4 hours a month, if you work that little the case managers will try to get you thrown off the program. Without this program my meds would be about $10k more per year, so I kind of need it. However the work I do to qualify for that program likely flags me for SSID issues and such. I know my last review in spring 2013 ended up with my mom, my psychiatrist, and my therapist submitting in total more than 1.5 inches of paper and a session with a SocSec Psychiatrist for outside assessment (I was undergoing ECT at the time so don’t remember much, but I have the submissions in my files).

    Any who, just found you on Twitter and wanted to say hey, great articles, I appreciate what you are doing writing here.



  6. I was approved for SSA 2 yrs ago for hairy cell leukemia. My cancer is not active right now. My medical review just came up. I have new issues like neuropathy from my chemotherapy. Also they found a aneurysm of 4.8cm. How do I present these new problems! Heard they would only look at the first problem.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As far as I know, they will start out by looking at your original condition. If they find that condition has improved, then they will also consider your other conditions. If you can provide any medical records about the new conditions, that may help.

    They will also consider if your cancer treatment is causing you symptoms. I met someone else in the same situation and his medical review passed based on the after effects of treatment.

    If you are still disabled and concerned about the change in your condition, you could ask your doctor to write a letter for you detailing they ways that you are currently disabled, then enclose the letter when you return the review paperwork.

    Some info on how to get a letter from your doc, plus sample letters.


  8. For a review do the years start when the ALJ gives you your onset date say going back a few years in my case or when the ALJ made a decision in your case?


  9. “check out your secret code that will tell you your review cycle”
    Could you expand upon this process, please?
    I am in year two of disability for mental health issues. I would like to continue my education. I would take all classes online, just as I teach online only, due to my condition. Do you have any idea whether or not attending graduate school online would affect my SSD? Thanks for the informative site, it’s really great!


    1. Hi jennifer,

      That was supposed to be a link 🙂

      It’s here, it’s only for people who have gotten a short form:

      I cannot say for sure whether graduate school would be considered for your CDR. You can look at this page about reviews while working as some of the info is similar:

      If someone gets a degree that makes them more employable that might be considered.

      Many people do go to school part time with no problems.

      Hope it goes great for you.


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