Can My Disability Benefits Be Taken Away?
In discussions about SSI and SSDI, the emphasis usually falls on the process of getting approved for disability benefits. Less frequently addressed is the question of whether those benefits can be taken away once a claimant has been approved. In this article, our disability lawyers will cover some common situations which can cause social security benefits to be discontinued, and your options for appealing if your SSI or SSDI payments are stopped.
Why Would SSI or SSDI Be Discontinued?
After being approved, most SSI and SSDI claimants will continue to receive monthly benefits well into the future. Claimants who have been approved can potentially keep receiving their benefits until they reach the retirement age, which is currently set at 67 for people who were born after 1959. Normally, once a person who is receiving disability benefits reaches the official retirement age, his or her benefits will be converted. SSDI payments (Social Security Disability Insurance) turn into Social Security retirement income, while SSI payments (Supplemental Security Income) become SSI for the elderly.
However, there also some situations where SSI or SSDI payments can be stopped. To understand why benefits can be discontinued, you must consider why benefits are granted in the first place — because the claimant has a disabling medical condition which is severe enough to prevent him or her from consistently working.
If your medical condition improves, there are two ways your benefits can be negatively impacted:
- Your condition may cease to meet the severity requirements outlined by the Listing of Impairments (or an equivalent means of qualifying, like a medical-vocational allowance). For example, to qualify for disability with a skin disorder like severe dermatitis, you must have “extensive skin lesions that persist for at least 3 months despite continuing treatment as prescribed.” If your lesions get better and begin to respond to treatment, you no longer meet this description.
- Because your condition has improved, you are now able to perform more work, raising your monthly income above the SSA’s specified thresholds. These income limits are expressed as Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), and change each year to accommodate inflation and the rising cost of living. For example, monthly income for non-blind SSDI claimants is limited to $1,820 in 2015. The SSI income limit is called the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR), and matches the maximum monthly payment: $733. You can work while receiving benefits, provided your income does not exceed the monthly limits.
While common, these are not the only reasons why your monthly benefits could be taken away. Disability payments could also be stopped if you:
- Are sent to jail or prison after being criminally convicted.
- Are institutionalized for medical reasons. This includes facilities like nursing homes and halfway houses.
- Leave the United States for at least 30 days.
- Turn 18 years old, at which point your old child benefits must be reevaluated under new adult guidelines.
Finally, because SSI takes resources like land and vehicles into account, your SSI benefits could also be stopped if you inherit money or if your spouse gets a significant raise or promotion.
Appealing the Decision to Stop Your Disability Benefits
Try not to panic if you receive a notice saying the Social Security Administration plans to stop your disability payments: you may be able to fight termination of benefits by appealing the SSA’s decision.
If you intend to appeal, it is extremely important that you act quickly. If you fail to respond within 60 days of receiving your notice of termination, you will have to go through the additional hassle of explaining your delay to the SSA — which may reject your explanation. The process will be faster and easier if you simply meet the 60-day deadline instead of depending on an extension, which is not guaranteed.
If you act very quickly and respond to the termination notice within 10 days, there’s an added benefit: you can ask the SSA to keep sending you your normal payments while your appeal is being deliberated — specifically, throughout the Reconsideration and ALJ (Administrative Law Judge) Hearing. Again, you can make this request after the 10-day deadline passes, but it is simpler and easier to follow the deadline where possible.
While it is important not to delay for too long, claimants are also strongly advised to approach the appeals process with the assistance of an experienced attorney. The multi-stage disability appeals process is rife with opportunities for errors and mistakes, but your attorney will help make sure you understand your rights, responsibilities, and potential strategies for obtaining a favorable outcome.
If you need help appealing a disability decision, the disability lawyers of Young, Marr & Associates may be able to help. To set up a free and confidential case evaluation, call our law offices at (609) 755-3115 in New Jersey or (215) 701-6519 in Pennsylvania today. We proudly serve the residents of Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey.