Can Health Changes Affect Social Security Disability Benefits?

Disability Benefits

It can take months or even years for someone to be granted disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). That doesn’t mean the beneficiary may be able to receive benefits for the rest of his or her life. Many times, health changes such as declining or improving health conditions, may impact his or her Social Security disability (SSD) benefits. According to the SSA, the agency uses a five-step process to determine Social Security disability benefits eligibility:

  1. Are you working?

  2. Is your medical condition “severe“?

  3. Is your medical condition on the SSA’s List of Impairments?

  4. Can you do the work you did before?

  5. Can you do any other type of work?

While there are, of course, special circumstances for certain health changes, the agency mostly takes into account the applicant’s medical condition. They determine whether or not these health changes affect his or her physical or mental abilities. This is why health changes can cause benefit eligibility issues for beneficiaries.

Health Changes: Declining Health

If beneficiaries find their health to be deteriorating or they are diagnosed with another limiting medical condition, they may wonder if they are entitled to additional SSD benefits. However, according to Howard Kossover, social security public affairs specialist for North Dakota and western Minnesota, declining health, unfortunately, does not change beneficiaries’ SSD benefits amount.

In a Q&A in the Grand Forks Herald, Kossover was asked by a local resident whether his wife would be entitled to additional Social Security disability benefits because she became more limited due to an increased inability to work. Kossover answered that because her Social Security disability benefits amount was based on her earnings from when she was working, it will not change because she became more disabled.

“No benefits are payable for partial or short-term impairments,” Kossover wrote. “Since your wife already met this work-related definition of disability, and because her benefit amount is based on her past work history, becoming more disabled will not change her amount.”

Yet Kossover did note that SSD payments do adjust to the cost of living (COLA). In other words, as the cost of living increases, so will your disability payments.

Health Changes: Improving health

While declining health may not impact SSD benefits, improving conditions may cause the agency to consider whether beneficiaries are still eligible for SSD benefits at all. If the SSA determines a beneficiary’s health has improved to the point where he or she is no longer disabled, the agency may determine that the person no longer requires benefit payments because he or she is now able to work. The agency examines its SSD beneficiaries’ cases every three to seven years to determine eligibility.

Remember: Possible health changes shouldn’t dissuade you from applying for SSD benefits. While your health problems could improve, they could also get markedly worse. It is important to understand that your health status may affect your SSD benefit eligibility in the future.

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Megan Kelly is a former blogger and copywriter for LeadingResponse.