The Difference Between Temporary Disability and Permanent Disability

The United States has a disability system that allows individuals to receive financial benefits if they are considered “disabled.” There are four different ways through which you can receive benefits: Social Security, a worker’s compensation program, private insurance, and a state government program. The laws vary for each of these avenues, but there are general guidelines that can be used to determine eligibility for disability benefits.

It’s important to go over your eligibility for each program with a lawyer because different programs accept different types of injuries and disabilities. For some programs like the Social Security disability programs, a disability that is only temporary might not qualify.

Talk to one of our Philadelphia disability lawyers for help with your disability application and deciding whether a temporary disability or permanent disability will qualify under the system you apply through. Call (215) 515-2954 today to set up a free legal consultation with Young, Marr & Associates.

Understanding the Difference Between Temporary and Permanent Disability

Generally, disabilities can be divided into two categories: temporary disabilities and permanent disabilities. The difference between these two types of disabilities is the length of time the disabling condition is expected to last.

Temporary Disabilities

A temporary disability can be defined as a disability that affects you for a short period of time. These conditions usually keep you incapacitated or out of work for a few days, weeks, months, or years but typically result in the eventual recovery. This type of disability often includes illnesses or injuries that temporarily prohibit you from participating in daily routine activities such as walking, showering without help, taking care of the kids, or working. For example, bronchitis or a sprained ankle would be considered a temporary disability.

Permanent/Long-Term Disabilities

A permanent or long-term disability is an injury or illness that results in permanent impairment of routine activities, such as competing in the job market, for the rest of your life. This covers injuries or illnesses from which you are usually not expected to recover and will likely live for the remainder of your life. You can be born with a permanent disability or it can be caused by an accident. Permanent disabilities are often grouped with long-term disabilities that you could potentially recover from, such as cancer. Even though recovery might be possible (unlike with permanent disabilities), the recovery is expected to take long enough that the same systems apply to provide benefits.

What’s the Difference?

The “cut-off” point between what’s temporary and what’s permanent/long-term is usually about a year. However, some short-term programs like workers’ comp. can last longer than a year and some short-term programs like Social Security Disability might last for less than a year if the patient is expected to die from the disability.

Programs that Cover Disabilities

Most states have workers’ compensation programs that cover temporary disabilities caused at work, and some workers have either long-term or short-term disability insurance benefits that could cover expenses during the period you are disabled. The Social Security Administration (SSA) only provides benefits for long-term disabilities that prevent you from earning substantial income for longer than a year, and it is one of the most popular systems to apply to get a permanent or long-term disability covered.

Do Social Security Benefits or Worker’s Compensation Plans Cover Permanent and Temporary Disabilities?

In order to receive disability benefits, you must first be classified as disabled. What conditions are considered disabling varies from state to state and from program to program?

Social Security Disability

The SSA uses its “Blue Book” to provide a list of common disabilities, but this list is not the ultimate authority on what conditions can qualify you for benefits under that program. This is because the Administration defines disability based on your inability to work and considers whether you

  • Can do the work that you did before
  • Cannot adjust to other kinds of work due to medical conditions
  • Have a disability that lasted or is expected to last for at least one year, or to result in death

This is a strict definition of the term disability because it does not cover people with conditions that allow them to be able to work at their current position or who are able to adjust to other kinds of work. This system also denies coverage if your condition is not expected to last for more than one year. “Disability” through the SSA does, however, include physical, emotional, and mental disabilities.

Workers’ Compensation

By comparison, a disabling work injury, under Pennsylvania’s Worker’s Compensation Act is any injury, medical condition, or disease that is caused by a person’s job. Similar to the Social Security Administration’s definition, the Act does not list specific types of injuries; the major requirement is that the condition must be related to the worker’s employment. In addition, a work injury also includes occupational diseases and pre-existing conditions that are aggravated by a person’s job. This definition is far more encompassing because a work injury can include everything from broken bones to allergies to poisoning, hepatitis, and cancer.

Which Program to Use for Permanent and Temporary Disabilities

Under these definitions, it is clear that disability benefits from the SSA do not cover temporary disabilities, but workers’ comp. might. It is also important to consider that permanent disability might be covered under both systems (and potentially under other coverage as well) if the permanent disability stemmed from work. This is because the SSA does not take into account whether the injury happened at work or outside of work – it accepts claims for disabilities from any source of injury or even medical conditions that do not involve a specific injury.

Examples of Temporary Disabilities

Temporary disabilities, as mentioned, usually include disabilities that are not expected to last forever. More specifically, disabilities that will only last a few weeks or months are typically put in this category.

For something to be a “disability” in the first place, it has to interfere with your ability to work. That means that some temporary disabilities might fully prevent you from working while others might make it harder to do your job, but not impossible. For example, a total temporary disability might include something like a concussion since your employer is unlikely to allow you to work in a vulnerable state. Contrast that with a temporary partial disability like a broken wrist that might make it harder to type, but you can still show up to work and make phone calls or file papers without entirely interrupting your ability to work.

Some examples of temporary disabilities and injuries include the following:

  • Broken bones
  • Recovery from surgery
  • Concussions
  • Whiplash
  • Back injuries

Examples of Permanent Disabilities

Permanent disabilities, as mentioned, are expected to last for the rest of the person’s life. Much like temporary disabilities, some permanent disabilities are totally disabling while others are only partially disabling.

Long-term disabilities and permanent disabilities are some of the more common things that people think of as “disabilities”: paralysis, amputation, traumatic brain injuries, etc. Many of these are the kinds of injuries and conditions that totally alter someone’s life and require changes beyond simply not being able to work.

Many permanent total disabilities include physical injuries like spinal cord injuries or brain injuries, but others include illness or other conditions. For example, cancer, multiple sclerosis, or chronic heart disease are often listed as disabilities, as are conditions that last from birth, such as cerebral palsy. Some mental conditions can also be completely disabling, such as severe depression or some forms of autism spectrum disorder.

Other disabilities that may be permanent only limit you from working in some ways. For instance, someone who becomes paralyzed from the waist down in an accident might have to leave a job working at a warehouse lifting and carrying boxes, but they may be able to transition to a desk job once they have recovered enough. Similarly, some ongoing health conditions might have significant flare-ups that take you out of commission temporarily, even though the condition is permanent. This is common for people with conditions like sickle cell anemia or lupus as well as many people with mental disabilities.

Getting SSDI Benefits with Temporary vs. Permanent Disabilities

SSDI (Social Security Disability Income) is the main disability program provided through the SSA. This program covers only permanent disabilities, including long-term disabilities that might only have temporary flare-ups or episodes. For instance, people with multiple sclerosis might have issues with balance and trouble concentrating, but they might be able to work a few days a week without issue.

SSDI is somewhat flexible, as it allows people to maintain some level of income from work while still receiving benefits. If your condition is severe enough that you cannot work most days, SSDI can provide benefits. However, you can still – with restrictions – earn up to the SSA’s “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) limit while receiving benefits.

For 2021, this limit is $1,310 per month for non-blind candidates and $2,190 per month for blind candidates. If you have a “good month” and are able to work more, it may trigger a “trial work period.” Trial work periods allow disabled people to earn additional income beyond the SGA limit and potentially test their abilities to see if they can go back to work. All income you earn while on disability needs to be reported to the Social Security Administration so they can determine whether you are still “disabled.”

It is important to consult with a lawyer about working while on disability. If you prove to the SSA that you can indeed work either by earning above your SGA limit or completing trial work periods, they may determine that you no longer need disability benefits. Additionally, working while on disability could end up disqualifying you for disability benefits if you make too much money at any time.

Social Security Lawyers Serving Philadelphia + Bucks County

The Bucks County disability attorneys at Young, Marr & Associates have over 20 years of experience helping thousands of Pennsylvania residents qualify for the disability benefits they deserve. If you have any questions about the application process, or if you’d like to appeal the denial of an existing claim, we encourage you to call our law offices at (215) 515-2954 in Pennsylvania to arrange for a free, private case evaluation.