How to Handle Disability Reviews While Working

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Artwork: Robin Mead

You are allowed to work part time while receiving Social Security disability.

If you are going back to work because your health is improved, and your goal is to transition off benefits, that is wonderful. There are many programs that can help.

If you are still disabled, and your goal is to work part time and continue disability, it is a good idea to think carefully and plan ahead.

Here is some more info on the Social Security policies for medical reviews:

How Does Social Security Decide if I am Still Disabled?

During a medical review, Social Security will review your medical records to see the following things:

💮 1) you still have severe symptoms
💮 2) your condition has not improved
💮 3) you are medically unable to work full time (more than $1,170 per month)
💮 4) you are in regular treatment and following your doctor’s recommendations.

If all of these things are well documented in your medical records, you may be able pass a medical review with no problems.

What’s the Best Way to Explain My Symptoms to Social Security?

It will not matter as much what you write or what you tell them. It will matter what your doctor has written in your medical records.

It is a great idea to make sure your doctor is aware of all of your limitations and read your complete medical records to see what is written. Hint: Do not read visit summaries. You can only get complete records by paying money and filling out forms.

It’s also a great idea to talk to your doctor and see if she agrees that you are medically unable to work full time. It’s a great idea to talk to your doctor and see if she will support you if you have a problem with your disability case – is she willing to write a letter or fill out a form? You may never need this extra support – but it’s good to know if it is there or not!

How Can I Be Prepared for My Medical Review?

Here’s where you can learn more about keeping accurate, good records for medical reviews: How to Prepare for a Medical Review.

Will Working Impact My Review?

Social Security may also consider if the type of work you do indicates an improvement in your condition.

💮 Example: Jane is approved for back problems and then gets a job lifting boxes. Social Security may consider whether this is an indication of improvement.

💮 Example: Joe is approved for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. When Joe was approved, part of the approval was based on his medical records showing severe cognitive problems with memory, focus and concentration. Then Joe gets a job doing bookkeeping which requires focus and concentration. Social Security may consider whether this is an indication of improvement.

💮 Example: Judy is approved for Bipolar. Part of her approval is based the fact that her case file shows that she is unable to appropriately communicate and interact with other people. Then she gets a job as a receptionist greeting people all day long. Social Security may consider whether this is an indication of improvement.

If I Join Ticket to Work or Vocational Rehab Will This Help Or Hurt My Review?

If you are in a Vocational Rehab or Ticket to Work program, Social Security will collect the files from that program and see what they say about your ability to work. Depending on what is written there, it may help or hurt your review.

Some work incentive programs, such as Ticket to Work, will cause your reviews to stop. Be careful. Many people enter these programs because they think they are protected. However, you must meet certain work requirements to stay in the program. Most people I have met tried the program for a while but could not keep up, then got kicked out of these programs, then got medical reviews. It did not always go well.

How Do Other People Do It?

I have met quite a few people who worked part time and continued disability with no problems. Every person is different of course. Most of the people I have met who had no problems did the following:

💮 They found a job on their own. They avoided Ticket to Work, Vocational Rehab, Trial Work Periods, and other programs that are designed to get people off of benefits. (If you are actually trying to go off benefits, these programs can be great).

💮 They earned under $1,170 per month.

💮 They had good medical records and regular medical treatment.

💮 They had doctors who believed they had a severe condition. Their doctors and medical records made it clear that they were medically unable to work full time.

How Often Will I Be Reviewed?

If you start working within two years after you are approved, this may trigger an additional medical review.

If more than two years have passed, you will not get an extra review from working, but you will still have your regularly scheduled review.

Most people are on a review cycle of every three, five or seven years. Sometime reviews are late. If you don’t know what cycle you are on, you can call and ask.

If you are on SSDI, you can have nine months of Trial Work Periods. Some people think this will protect them from medical reviews for nine months. It will not! You will still get your regularly scheduled medical reviews.

What Are the Regulations for Working? What Am I Allowed to Do?

Good question. Learn more here: How to Work Without (Too Much) Trouble

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