How to Be Prepared for Your Social Security Disability Review

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Art: 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 send you a full medical review or if they want to skip your review (most of the time they skip it!). It only takes five minutes to complete. 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 not a medical review. This review looks at your finances and living situation. It is used to decide how high your SSI check should be and if you are eligible for SSI. This is done over the phone. It is only for people on SSI (not SSDI).

How Often Do I Get Reviewed?

Financial reviews typically take place once per year.

Medical reviews are more complicated. How often will you be reviewed? Can reviews come late? Can reviews come early? Will I be reviewed forever? Find out: When Is My Next Social Security Disability Review?

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. They start by looking at the conditions you had last time they reviewed your case.

💮  If this is your first review, they look at the condition or conditions you were approved for.

💮  If you were reviewed in the past, but it was a short form (not a full medical review), they look at the condition or conditions you were approved for.

💮  If you have had a full medical review in the past, they look at any conditions you had that they found to be disabling at that time. If you want to know more about your last review, you can contact your local office and request a copy of the case file for your last continuing disability review.

Next Steps

Then they compare! They compare how severe those conditions were in the past to how severe they are now.

💮  If they find that your conditions are the same or similar and have not improved, your review will most likely pass without problems.

💮  If they find that your conditions are worse, your review will most likely pass without problems.

💮 If they find that your conditions have improved, then they will consider any other conditions you have developed and decide whether your improvement means you would now be able to work a full time job.

Do Small Changes Matter?

Social Security does not expect your condition to be exactly the same as it was years ago. They look to see that your general symptoms and functioning are similar to how they were before. Small changes are normal:

💮 It usually will be no problem if there have been small changes in your symptoms. For example, if one symptom is somewhat better, and a different symptom is somewhat worse, but your overall level of disability and functioning is the same.

💮 It usually will be no problem if your doctor has given you a new diagnosis that is similar to the last one. This is especially common for mental health. For example: One doctor might diagnose Bipolar, and then a new doctor might diagnose the same symptoms to be Borderline Personality Disorder. As long as person is still have severe psychiatric symptoms, that is what they will be looking for.

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 your disabling condition (unless your doctor has written that no treatment is possible)

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

💮 Your medical records indicate that you are still impaired or still having severe symptoms.

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

If your condition has improved, it’s still possible to pass a review, if you can show that condition is still severe and disabling, or if you have developed other severe conditions.

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

Are Medical 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.

💮 Most reviews pass without problem if the medical records show that that person still has the same condition and that condition has not improved. For most conditions, they will also look to see that you are in regular treatment or regularly seeing a doctor.

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 may be helpful to to keep a written record of any disability accommodations that you got. Your school’s disability services office can assist you with this.

💮 Warning: If you have been in any kind of vocational rehabilitation or ticket to work program, Social Security may collect and read all files and case notes written by anyone from that program. This sometimes causes problems. Sometimes disabled people try to downplay their weaknesses and overplay their abilities when seeking work. Please make sure that everything you say to work programs is accurate and honest.

Having Good Doctor Visits

How to Stop Hiding From Your Doctor

💮 What you say during doctor visits can be very important.

How to Talking to Your Doctor Can Help (or hurt) Your Disability Case

💮 Learn from the pros. (Tips from readers).

Dahlia Finds a Surprise in Her Medical Records

💮 A really great story that will help you understand way more about how conversations with your doctor can affect your records.

How to Answer Tricky Questions at the Doctor’s Office

💮 This page is also for new applications. Some of these questions could also come up later. Why can’t you work? What activities do you do?

More Tips 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.

How to Get a Doctor to Come to Your House

💮 Not always possible. Sometimes possible!

Choosing a Doctor

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

💮  It be can easier to pass a review if you have at least one who doctor is an Acceptable Medical Source.

💮 If none of your doctors are an acceptable medical 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, and this doctor’s opinion may be given extra consideration.

💮 When visiting a new 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. If possible, 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

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

39 thoughts on “How to Be Prepared for Your Social Security Disability Review”

  1. Thank you for your wonderful service and helpful website!!! I was wondering why you recommend contacting one’s local office for the Benefits Planning Query instead of calling the 800 number. Are there any possible negative consequences from going through the 800 number? Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Since I’m up for my CDR I’m wondering how to handle my daughter’s kidney transplant in a different state. It’s in Feb. and obviously her father and I need to attend and we could be gone for several weeks, and will be renting a home while we’re there helping her. How would you suggest I handle not being in my home state while going through the cdr? Should I contact SS and inform them? I don’t think I have a disability examiner yet, I just mailed my forms in at the start of Jan.

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    1. It might be good to be in touch with disability examiner, as they may want to send you for an exam with SSA doctor. I am not certain how it is handled for people out of state…. possibly they can just delay the appointment a bit for you?

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      1. Thank you. I just called the local office and it has not been assigned to a DE yet. The gentleman I spoke with said I could #1 forward mail to the address we’ll be staying at (I’m not sure short term rentals allow that) or #2 call SSA and advise them of my point of contact and will be away from home for an extended period of time (dates are helpful). They would be able to contact me via phone to let me know of any appointments they expect me to attend, or they could decide to put my appointments on hold until then end date of my leave. He gave me some direction so that was helpful. I’m probably call weekly until it’s been assigned and hopefully be able to speak to that person directly.

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  3. Where the CDR asks for “List of Medical Conditions” Im going to list what I won on because they’re still active but I have 15 other diagnosis now, do I list all of them? It’s overwhelming to look at let alone live it.

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    1. I’ve met people who have done it.

      The biggest issue is keeping up medical records. If you can arrange medical care with someone who keeps good records, get 100% of the records yourself, and then make 100% sure they all get to the disability reviewer, that would probably make things smoother 🙂

      Lost mail is also an issue. Some people notify SSA of their physical address, but ask for mail to be sent to a friend or family in the US.

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    2. I live in Spain and was approved for SSDI in 2017. Sleepygirl is right about the documentation aspect. If I get a CDR next year, I’m going to have my psychiatrist write a letter for me, which I’ll provide along with all my prescription documents. I’m pretty sure I’ll be asked to do a CE.

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  4. I would like someone that has gone thru the final review with SSDI from disability to retirement to answer me
    Thank you

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      1. Hi. It was 2015 my last review and then I tried to work 1/2018 I was able to work a light schedule. It didn’t last long. Then they did a work medical review and said I was still disabled. So you don’t think they will do another medical review when I turn 66 in 10/ 2020. Some told me that they go all way to the being of disability. They have been doing reviews every 7 to 10 years.

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        1. It seems unlikely that they will do another one, given your age, and the fact that they already did a medical review for working. We have not heard from anyone who got a review at that age.

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  5. Hi. thanks for this informative article sleepygirl. really appreciate the info. I’m not sure what my medical review status is. All i got was a two page letter that said based on my listed medical conditions it was determined my conditions were severe and meet the medical requirements. it did not say what classification my CMR is. the letter also said that my eligibility based on my application was november 2017 but they determined my disabilty began may 2015. Of course the backpay only goes back one year.

    I had actually been fighting for disability since june of 2012 but my case got denied all the way to every possible appeal i could do. then I had to reapply. I did not get my second application approval notification until april 2018 but my second application was submitted november 2017 which is why my eligibility began then.

    I have like 20 things I listed as reasons why i believe I’m disabled. some of those have improved, others the same, some of them worse. Also my medicare didn’t kick in until november 2018 so I was without health insurance from july until november because i lost medicaid once my ssdi was approved. I havent seen a dr since july 2018 because of that but will begin seeing them the fist week in january. but continued my presriptions during that time and let my drs know about my losing health insurance for a few months. It sucks, though, because a few of my drs retired so I will be seeing new ones which means basically starting over from scratch. the reason that sucks is because it was really hard to get approved partially because my drs didn’t believe me or take my conditions seriously or ignored certain things. They also misstated a lot of information in my file and left a lot of stuff out. So I had to get all of my records and argue that about my drs to ss. I dont know if thats part of why I was finally approved but i know I submitted way more supportive information than my drs.

    They also said in the letter that I met the medical requirements but the non medical hadnt be determined yet and I would be notified soon. I don’t recall getting another letter that mentioned about non medical. So, I’m not sure how the CMR will be classfied for me and if the 3 year review is based on the may 2015 date of onset, november 2017 eligibility date, or the april 2018 date (when my second application was approved). any input is greatly appreciated.

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  6. Im having great inspirations from your site, but still very worried, everything isn’t going exactly as it seems like it should. Im in the middle of a long form CDR, I’ve really been using your site step by step, and in spite of calling my state examiner, sending her all my recent medicals and requesting they use my doctor instead of a CE, I have an appt soon with a CE which has not been cancelled. All my examiner kept saying was “i’ll let you know if what you’re sending me have what I need it to say”.
    Im happy your site taught me the state rep doesnt get the med files from SSA. I sent 200 pages to SSA in the summer, this my state examiner did agree with.
    She suggested instead of the whole 200 i send most recent. So I did probably about 100 pages more of more recent medical charts.

    Seems like its my right to have my doctor do the exam instead of the CE, but the examiner is falling flat on clarifying and I dont want to annoy her.

    I’m concerned that the CE medical exam, is charlatan-esque like a worker’s comp IME, which I have experienced in the past where their mission is to basically “fail you”.
    I called my local congressman’s office like you suggested. They have an SSA liason, but Im sure in the meantime. The CE is going to happen.

    I’d welcome if feedback,
    1- if I should somehow put pressure on to insist that the CE not be considered at all or if I should just ride the ride out?
    My concern is there’s no reason for me to fail, but if its like an IME and they’r destined to fail me, its worth fighting “now” instead of after a CDR denial.

    2- Also feedback, if you get this..I started working part time under SGA hours and income for sure, due to my conditions. . I know we can’t generalize but is it fair to say if you work, they’re gonna be after you forever, and harass you with CE’s IME’s and so forth? Everything says you can work, but nothing warns you that they are gonna break your horns until kingdom come?

    tnx for this wonderful site.

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    1. Hi John,

      It’s sounds like you’ve done a great job with follow through.

      CEs are very standard, it’s not specific to people who are working.

      CEs vary. I don’t think it’s as bad as the IMEs. If your own records are strong and consistent that is most important.

      I have met a lot of people who tried to get their own doctor to do the CE and they are usually told no.

      Sometimes people are able to get this if they insist and request in writing and speak to supervisors and show the SSA rules, which I can’t seem to link to at the moment as the site is down.

      Your physician needs to agree first though. They have to be willing to do a fee agreement with SSA and they have to be qualified to do whatever type of exam the CE is for. Perhaps you could inquire what type of exam they are ordering and what type of physician is needed?

      I hope it goes great for you. Please keep us posted.

      Like

  7. Somehow I was led to your website and I truly appreciate you working diligently, helping those of us who are on SSD or SSI. You have a wonderful writing style and I thought I would leave a message here asking about disability reviews and student loan discharges for those on disability without tax liability.

    I’ve been in SSD for almost 20 years due to profound deafness. I was surprised to learn recently that I am on a 3 year medical review cycle because I was born with this disability and it isn’t going to “improve”! So what I’m curious to know is who makes the decision to put a person on a certain medical review cycle? Can it be changed? If so, how?

    And then here’s the reason I am looking into this. I have massive student loans that have been on deferrment on the basis of the income based repayment plan. I have not had to pay any monthly student loans because of the low income situation and it was the only way many disabled people had to stave off possible loan repayment because before 2018, anyone who got approved for loan forgiveness was liable for taxes on the loan amount forgiven but that has apparently changed this year. If one is receiving SSD/SSI, he/she can apply for loan forgiveness only if SSA has them on a 5 to 7 year medical review cycle.

    Here is a link to where I found this information: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/disability-discharge#

    Scroll up the page to where there is a question about tax liability issues – as of this writing, I have been told by the Department of Education that this new law has not been put in the form of a policy yet!

    In any case, I am wanting to change my medical cycle review from 3 plus years to 5 to 7 years in order to qualify for the loan forgiveness program.

    How does one go about doing that? I called the local Social Security office and got a person who said they themselves do not have the power or ability to change the review cycle — they told me that a randomly assigned “analyst” would have this ability at the time of my next medical review, which doesn’t happen until August 2019. When I receive a letter from them to have a medical review, the name and number of that analyst will appear on the letter but until then I was infformed by SSA on the phone that there is no way I can make an appointment with an analyst in another location (a major city office location) until my medical review.

    Thoughts? Ideas? I’m sure this is a question that the answer to could help many of us former students who are on disability but are not under the 5 to 7 year medical review cycle, which wouild eliminate the SSA method of proving to the Dept of Education that one qualifies for the loan forgiveness due to their disability.

    Thanks!

    Like

    1. Thanks for your comments. There is no clear way to change your review cycle.

      However, 5-7 year cycle is not required for a disability discharge. You can also get a discharge by having your doctor fill out a form – this is how most of our readers have done it 🙂

      Thank you for the link on the taxes!

      Like

  8. “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!

    Like

    1. Hi jennifer,

      That was supposed to be a link 🙂

      It’s here, it’s only for people who have gotten a short form:
      https://howtogeton.wordpress.com/2017/01/20/how-to-find-your-secret-code-short-form-cdr/

      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: https://howtogeton.wordpress.com/2017/07/23/disability-reviews-while-working/

      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.

      Like

  9. 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?

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  10. 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.

    https://howtogeton.wordpress.com/2017/02/03/how-to-get-a-great-letter-from-your-doc/

    Like

  11. 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

  12. 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 SocialSecurityDisabilityNews.info 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.

    Ta-
    Scott

    Like

  13. 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??

    Like

  14. 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.

    Like

    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. ❤ https://howtogeton.wordpress.com/2017/05/03/how-to-work-without-too-much-trouble/

      Like

  15. 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 ❤

    Like

  16. 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?

    Like

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