Washington State Social Security Disability Law Blog

Washington State Social Security Disability Law Blog

Schroeter, Goldmark & Bender

Washington State Supreme Court ruling addresses the inhumane practice of “Boarding” the mentally ill

Posted in Mental Illness & Cognitive Disorders, News

Starting next week, hospitals in Washington State will be prohibited from “boarding” psychiatric patients in emergency departments while they wait for inpatient beds to open up. The change comes as a result of a recent state Supreme Court ruling.

“Boarding” is the practice of holding acutely ill psychiatric patients in emergency rooms—frequently in makeshift holding zones such as hallways or isolated areas until a bed becomes available at a psychiatric facility. The practice has reached a critical point across the country as inpatient psychiatric facilities are frequently full, and crisis beds are difficult to find. A 2012 survey from the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors found that 10% of hospitals regularly board patients for several weeks at a time. Additionally, according to an American College of Emergency Room Physicians poll from earlier this year, an overwhelming 84 percent of emergency physicians report that psychiatric patients are being “boarded” in their emergency department, with nine in ten (91 percent) saying this practice has led to violent behavior by distressed psychiatric patients. The practice represents a grossly inadequate approach to managing the appalling inadequacy of the mental health system throughout the country. As a result of this ruling, it will no longer be possible, at least in Washington State, to ignore the lack of system capacity that created the situation in the first place.

Mental health systems throughout the United States have been insufficiently funded and managed since the federal Community Mental Health Act began transitioning the psychiatrically ill out of mental health facilities founded on the failed promise of adequately funded community based services specially designed to accommodate their needs. This failure resulted in an overwhelming population of homeless individuals coupled with the absence of adequate psychiatric beds in medical facilities, and the re-institutionalization of the mentally ill into our jails and prisons.

In 2013, 10 detained psychiatric patients in Washington’s Pierce County sued to block a petition that would have allowed the county to hold them for 14 additional days. The patients had been boarded in emergency rooms or acute-care hospitals that were not certified as psychiatric evaluation and treatment centers. A trial judge ruled that the petition was unlawful, and the Supreme Court, while acknowledging that the system is “regularly overwhelmed,” agreed that patients who are involuntarily committed have the right to be placed in a center certified for the purpose of providing psychiatric care. Notably, those who are boarded receive little or no psychiatric care, and languish for long periods of time before receiving necessary treatment. However, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the lower court ruling that the state’s involuntary treatment act “does not authorize psychiatric boarding as a method to avoid overcrowding certified evaluation and treatment centers.”

In a statement, the Washington State Hospital Association said it is working with the governor on “finding solutions to properly fund mental health evaluation and treatment services.” It pointed out that funding for mental health services has been cut by more than $90 million over three years, and available beds have declined 36% even as the state’s population grew by 14%.

The ruling is most certainly a call to action to provide appropriate levels of care for all psychiatric patients, including those experiencing acute crisis. The next challenge will be to find the resources to care for them.

 

Date Last Insured: What it is and how it affects your Social Security Disability Insurance case

Posted in Applications & Appeals

How do I become insured?  By working and paying taxes on your earnings, you become insured for SSDI.  SSDI is an “insurance” program.  Just like auto insurance, you have to pay your premiums to collect.  You pay your SSDI premiums when you pay FICA or payroll taxes.  If you are working “under the table” without paying taxes, you are not paying your SSDI premiums.  If you are self-employed but do not earn enough money after deductions to be required to pay FICA taxes on your earnings, you are not paying your SSDI premiums.  

How much do I have to earn to be insured? In most cases, in order to be insured for benefits, you have to have worked 5 of the last 10 years.  Social Security explains that you have to have at least 20 quarters of coverage during the 10 years prior to your disability.  Fewer credits are required for younger workers. In 2014, in order to earn one quarter of credit you must have paid FICA taxes on $1,200 of income. You can earn up to 4 credits per year.  So, in 2014, if you earn $4,800 you will have earned 4 credits. 

What is the Date Last Insured or DLI?  This is the date that you last were insured for SSDI benefits.  The best way to find out your DLI is to call your local Social Security office.  

If your DLI is in the Past:  You must prove that you were disabled before that date.  It is more difficult to prove disability in the past.  Current evaluations may not reflect the limitations you had years ago.  You may have different doctors then the ones that treated you prior to your DLI and you may have forgotten all of the places you went for treatment.   As a result it is very important that you provide Social Security with all of the information you can to help them make a favorable decision.  This may include: 

  • Medical Reports:  Have your current treating doctor write a letter explaining your abilities and limitations prior to your DLI.    If you are no longer seeing a doctor who treated you prior to your DLI, your current doctor may be able to review the medical evidence and assess your functioning prior to the DLI.
  • Medical Records:  It is hard to remember all the places that you went to for treatment in the past.  It is important that you do so. You can ask your insurance carrier for a list of all of the providers you saw prior to your DLI.
  • Obtain other evidence:  Get statements from family and friends explaining the difficulties you had functioning prior to your date last insured.  These letters should include their observations of your functioning prior to your DLI.

Most importantly, if you are applying for benefits after your DLI and you are denied, you should appeal the denial.  If you don’t, Social Security’s denial of your SSDI may become permanent

 

Vision 2025 — Could your local Social Security Administration office be at risk?

Posted in Applications & Appeals

Disabled individuals face many challenges in applying for Social Security Disability benefits, including a high denial rate and long waits for approval. Soon, however, they may be facing a new hurdle: The inability to get in-person help from a local field office. The Social Security Administration may be trying to redesign the way the agency operates so most of its services are provided only on the Internet.

Since Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin took control of the SSA in February 2013, she has begun to engage in long-term planning for the agency, and has contracted with the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) to devise “Vision 2025,” a long range planning document that will address the organizational and physical infrastructure of SSA. The final report will not be released until October 2014, however NAPA has confirmed that its core recommendation to the agency is that by the year 2025 SSA will use online and self-service delivery as the primary service channel, and that in-person services will be available only “in very limited circumstances.”

Last week, Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, wrote a letter to the editor urging people to contact their politicians about the closures. She writes:

The fact is, millions of seniors and disabled Americans are not accustomed to doing business online, and, particularly in rural areas, many do not have access to computers or high-speed Internet services in their homes. Even as computer and broadband technologies become more widespread, the idea that the Social Security Administration can serve beneficiaries primarily online ignores the very real needs of many seniors and disabled Americans.

Of particular concern is the lack of transparency in the SSA’s decision making process for closing field offices. The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging thoroughly investigated the reduction in face-to-face services at the Social Security Administration, and has published their findings here.

Their report establishes that the SSA does not contact any local community members or stakeholders concerning the closing or consolidation of field offices until the closure decision has already been made. The report clarifies the detrimental impact of this practice on especially vulnerable populations. For example, the Amherst, New York, closure review noted that the local field office served the residents of several dozen area nursing homes; however the report fails to articulate how this population will properly access or how their needs will be adequately served by having to visit the next nearest SSA office nearly 20 miles away. Clearly, even short distances can be burdensome for the aged, disabled, or poor who must rely on public transportation.

Moreover, the SSA review documents concerning the West Louisville, Kentucky field office closure notes local residents need for face to face interaction, yet summarily concludes that “the community’s needs would be met without interruption,” apparently by way of the internet. This says nothing about the local community member’s access to or comfort with electronic forms of communication.

It is well known in my practice of Social Security law that the application for benefits from the SSA may be the most complex paperwork that many people have ever had to complete. Especially when applying for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits or Supplemental Security Income, many applicants may need to pose questions directly to an employee in a SSA field office. Unfortunately, sometimes disabled individuals may not have access to the Internet or their medical conditions may make it difficult or even impossible for them to navigate the complicated process of applying for benefits online. Without in-person field offices to provide help, these vulnerable individuals may not even know how to get started.

My Personal Heros: ALJs Who Stand Up to Bullies

Posted in Sound Off, Uncategorized

I recently celebrated my 11th wedding anniversary.   I fell in love with my husband when he was my co-counsel in a felony jury trial.  He brilliantly cross examined a police officer who had abused his power against our homeless, mentally-ill client.  In trial, he demonstrated that he has the character traits I most admire, compassion, intelligence and bravery.   In thinking about our anniversary, I was struck that the character traits I admire in my husband are also present in the Social Security Administrative Law Judges I most respect.

For the last several years far right wing has been bullying ALJs into denying cases.  Most recently, Darrel Issa, the right wing chair of House Oversight and Government Control Committee subpoenaed ALJs with approval ratings he thinks are too high to appear before his committee.  His committee, which has long been criticized as abusing its power in politically motivated which hunts, tried to harass and embarrass these ALJ.   Many ALJs have lowered their approval ratings to avoid the ire of these far right wing law makers.  I have lamented the fact that some ALJs who used to be reasonable, will now use any excuse to deny a disabled person benefits.

I realize that rather than lamenting the acts of self-preservation of these ALJs, I should be celebrating the fact that there are still ALJs who stand up for disabled people in the face of these powerful bullies.  They still see view the suffering of the disabled with compassion, intelligently defend their decisions and bravely decide cases without regard to their own self-preservation.  With this in mind, I offer my sincere thanks to the compassionate, intelligent and brave judges who still fairly judge the cases of my disabled clients.

Thank you! 

 

 

Compassionate Allowance and Presumptive Disability: Can your claim be expedited?

Posted in Applications & Appeals

 

Compassionate Allowance

In 2008 the Social Security Administration created the Compassionate Allowance Initiative to expedite the application process for Social Security Disability claims for those individuals suffering from specific, serious illnesses. This program was initiated on the basis that some conditions, by their definition, are so disabling that the applicant automatically qualifies for benefits by virtue of their diagnosis. The purpose of this program is to quickly identify diseases and other conditions that invariably qualify under the Listing of Impairments based on minimal objective medical evidence.  Applicants who suffer from a Compassionate Allowance illness listed on the Social Security website will have their application for disability benefits expedited with the intention of providing certain severely ill individuals with a quick decision rather than being subjected to months of delay which is typical of the disability application and appeals process.

Clearly stating in your application that you have a disability or disease that is on the Compassionate Allowance List (CAL) is enough to put your application for benefits on the fast track for approval. Your medical records must support this claim, but if you are found to have a Compassionate Allowance condition, you will almost always automatically qualify for disability benefits in as little as two weeks after submitting your application. However, it can sometimes take weeks or months for medical providers to send records to the Social Security, and this can hold up even a Compassionate Allowances claim. It is helpful to expediting your claim if you can submit some medical records that state your diagnosis with your application documents. It is important to remember that while the Compassionate Allowance program will provide that a disability determination is made more quickly, SSDI beneficiaries will still have to wait five months after their disability onset date to begin receiving benefits, and two years after their onset date before Medicare benefits begin.

In February 2014, Carolyn Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, announced 25 new Compassionate Allowance conditions bringing the number of conditions to 225. A full list of Compassionate Allowance conditions can be found here.

Presumptive Disability

For those individuals who are disabled and meet very limited income and financial resources standards, the Social Security Administration has the ability to grant immediate SSI payments, in the form of Presumptive Disability benefits. Conditions that qualify easily as presumptively disabling are such serious impairments that the applicant is presumed to be disabled, and will quickly receive up to six months of SSI payments while the agency fully processes the SSI disability claim. As soon as the SSA makes a final decision regarding the disability claim, or if no final decision has been made within six months, the presumptive disability benefits will end. If the disability claim is denied, you are not responsible for repaying money received because of a presumptive disability.

You should clearly state at the time of filing your SSI application that you suffer from one of the conditions listed as a presumptive disability. A list of the qualifying impairments includes:

  • Amputation of the leg at the hip
  • Complete deafness
  • Complete blindness
  • Confinement to a wheelchair because of a longstanding condition
  • Inability to walk or inability to use one hand because of a stroke occurring at least three months prior to your application
  • Inability to walk because of cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, or muscular atrophy that requires the use of an assistive device such as a wheelchair
  • Down Syndrome
  • Severe mental deficiency for individuals older than age seven, such that they need assistance to perform daily activities
  • Caring for an infant 6 months of age or younger with a birth weight of less than 1200 grams
  • Testing HIV positive with a resulting infection that meets the Social Security listing requirements
  • Being in hospice care
  • End-stage kidney disease
  • Spinal injuries which occurred at least two weeks prior to your application and have resulted in an inability to walk
  • Severe premature birth
  • Diagnoses of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease

As stated above, you must have limited income and financial resources to qualify for presumptive disability benefits. Presumptive disability benefits are not available to those individuals applying for Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI). To learn more about the differences between SSI and SSDI, read Anne Kysar’s blog post here.

What are the differences between SSI and SSDI?

Posted in Applications & Appeals


Supplemental Security Income (S
SI) is a needs based welfare program.  It provides a monthly stipend for people who are poor and also disabled or elderly.  In addition, in most instances, you have to be a citizen living in the US.  The amount of the benefit is very low.  In 2014, the monthly stipend for an individual is $721 and for a couple is $1082.   In Washington State, when you are found eligible for SSI, you are automatically eligible for Medicaid.

  • You must be poor: You are eligible for benefits if you have less than $2,000 in available resources (such as cash, stocks, retirement savings) for an individual and $3000 for a couple.  A number of resources are not counted such as the house you live in and the car you depend on for transportation.  In addition, you must have limited income.  This includes money that you earn and or money that is given to you (unearned).  The amount is based on your living arrangement, they type of income and the number of people in your household.
  • You must be elderly or disabled:  Being elderly means being aged 65 or older.    The test for disability is the same for both programs.  You are disabled if you have an impairment or combination of impairments that prevent you from working and earning Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA).
  • You must be a citizen residing in the US:  Although there are some exceptions, usually, an SSI recipient must be a US citizen residing in the US.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is an insurance program for people with disabilities.  In order to qualify for SSDI you paid premiums in the form of payroll or FICA taxes.  Because this is an insurance program or a “earned benefit,” rather than a welfare program, there are no income or resource requirements.  The benefit amount is based on the amount of money you paid into Social Security.  In 2013, the average benefit amount was $1113.  The maximum amount in 2013 was $2533.

  • You must be insured for benefits.  Generally, in order to be insured for benefits, you have to have at least 20 quarters of coverage during the 10 years prior to your disability.  Fewer credits are required for younger workers. In 2014, in order to earn one quarter of credit you must have paid FICA taxes on $1,200 of income. You can earn up to 4 credits per year.  So, in 2014, if you earn $4,800 you will have earned 4 credits.  Although the formula may seem complicated, Social Security can tell you if you are insured for benefits.
  • You must be disabled:  You are disabled if you have an impairment or combination of impairments that prevent you from working full time and earning Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA).

Can I get both SSI and SSDI?  If you are poor, disabled and insured for benefits, you may be able to get both SSI and SSDI.  However, your SSI eligibility is based on your income.  That means for every dollar you receive in SSDI, one dollar will be deducted from the amount of your SSI check.  If your SSDI amount exceeds $721 a month in 2014, you will likely be ineligible for SSDI.

The Bottom Line:  If you are disabled, but don’t know which program you are eligible, contact an attorney or Social Security themselves, and they can help determine your eligibility.

Applying For Social Security Disability–Some Tips to Remember

Posted in Applications & Appeals

1. Do some preparation before you apply.

To make your application process go more smoothly, and to make your claim more successful, you should spend some time thinking about and gathering information that the Social Security claims representative will be requesting at the time of your application interview. This includes information concerning your past work, your medical conditions, and the names and contact details of providers that treat you for those conditions. A little time spent planning for your application interview will go a long way to improve the chances that your claim will be thoroughly reviewed by the disability examiner.

2. Be certain to report ALL of your impairments when applying–not just the one that you believe to be the most disabling.

Disability applications are almost never won on the basis of a single impairment. It is important that you list in your application every impairment and related symptom that you suffer from that prevents you from sustaining full time work. Spend time prior to your interview writing down your limitations in sitting, standing, walking, stooping, bending, balancing, reaching, lifting, etc. Also, consider any problems that you are experiencing with your memory or your ability to concentrate.

3. Be sure to list ALL of your medical providers.

On your application you will want to list every facility that you have been treated at for your disabling conditions along with the name of each medical provider that sees you on a regular basis. It is helpful if you have the provider’s full name and contact details available for the claims representative at the time that you apply. I suggest to my clients that on their next visit to the doctor or clinic they ask for their doctor’s  business card, so that they have an easy method of conveying this information to Social Security. It is well worth the extra effort here to make sure that Social Security orders all of your medical records when considering your claim.

4. Make a list of all jobs that you have held in the past 15 years.

You should write down in advance your work history going back for the 15 year period prior to becoming disabled. This is the time frame during which Social Security considers your employment activity as “Past Relevant Work.” Taking the time to think about and list any jobs performed during this time frame will hopefully make your application process less stressful.

5. Do not exaggerate or minimize your symptoms and limitations.

Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to exaggerate or minimize your symptoms or how they impact your ability to perform daily activities. This is important to remember when you see your own treating doctor, when you are speaking to a Social Security representative about your claim, or when you are seen by a Consultative Examiner (“CE”) that Social Security may send you to. Very few applicants are aware of exactly how their statements and actions can be used against them during this process. This is especially unfortunate for those who are embarrassed about their condition and answer “no” or “not too bad” when they are asked about certain symptoms or limitations. On the other end of the spectrum, Consultative Examiners have been known to comment specifically about an individuals presentation being overly dramatic, or even watching them from the window as they walk to their car to see if the applicant is faking or “malingering.” You will maximize the chances of having your claim properly considered if you are honest at ALL times with your treating doctor and any other medical source when speaking about your symptoms and limitations. You can learn more about the Consultative Examination process here.

6. Obtain a narrative medical report from your treating physician. 

Medical records have the greatest impact on your case, and this is especially true about those that come from your treating physician. Unfortunately, your doctor may not specifically reference your functional limitations in your medical records even though this is precisely the information that Social Security is looking for when reviewing your claim. It is extremely helpful if your doctor can provide a narrative letter articulating the length of time you have been in treatment with them, your specific diagnosis, and all of the limitations that prevent you from sustaining full-time competitive employment. Social Security understands that your treating physician is the most familiar with your condition and limitations, and will frequently give your doctor’s opinion “controlling weight” when deciding your claim.

Back and Neck Surgery: Should I Apply For Social Security Disability Benefits?

Posted in Applications & Appeals, Spine & Joints

I know many people – friends, family members, and clients – who have undergone neck and back surgery.  For some, it is truly a godsend.  Their pain is reduced substantially or eliminated altogether following surgery and they can return to their normal activities.

For others, the results are mixed and I often get asked whether they should apply for disability benefits.

It is usually better to try to continue working, if you can, since people generally feel better about life, if they are working.  Also, disability benefits are not a sure thing and so you don’t want to give up a good job unless you really have to.

Some employers can make accommodations that will allow employees with back and neck problems to return to work.  For example, an employer may be able to provide an ergonomic chair, adjust your work station so that you can perform your work in either a seated or standing position, or allow you additional time off to attend doctor and physical therapy appointments.

However, even with these accommodations some employees cannot return to their past work or perform other jobs because of pain, side-effects from medication, difficulty sitting and standing, or problems using their hands.

In those situations, they should consider applying for Social Security Disability Benefits.  Keep in mind that you are only eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance if your physical limitations are expected to last 12 months or longer.

If you need to be seeing a doctor because of pain, you should go to the doctor, tell the doctor about your symptoms, follow the doctor’s treatment recommendations, and attend all of your follow-up appointments. If you do apply for benefits, it is important that you have a good relationship with your doctors.

My advice is that you do not discuss whether to apply for Social Security Disability benefits with your doctors.   If you apply for disability benefits, Social Security will obtain your medical records to determine whether you can work.  Social Security may think that you are only seeking medical treatment because you want benefits if your chart-notes reflect that you have been discussing disability benefits with your doctor.  (I know that sounds harsh, but I have seen this happen on many occasions.  Certainly, you can discuss the issue with your doctor if your doctor raises the topic, but you should not be the one to bring it up.)

Bottom line:  You should apply for Social Security Disability benefits following neck surgery or back surgery if you can no longer work.

Continuing Disability Reviews: 7 Tips to Keep Your SSDI Benefits

Posted in Uncategorized

If you have been awarded SSDI benefits, Social Security will review your case to see if you continue to be disabled. This is called a Continuing Disability Review or CDR. These reviews usually happen every three years but they can happen more or less frequently. Social Security will stop your benefits if they find your condition improved and you are no longer disabled. There are things that you can do to make it less likely that Social Security will cut off your benefits when it comes time for a review.

 

1. Continue to go to the doctor. As part of the CDR, Social Security will gather your medical records. It is important that you continue to see your health care providers and continue to tell them about the medical problems that you have. Just like at the application stage, Social Security bases their decision on the medical record. If your problems and complaints are not in the medical record, it makes it much more likely that you will lose your benefits. All too often, I get phone calls from desperate people who tell me that they have had their benefits terminated. They explain that they have not been to the doctor in some time and a doctor Social Security sent them to found that they were not disabled. Continue to see your doctor after you are awarded benefits to stop this from happening to you.

 

2. Continue to report your symptoms to your doctor. The medical record is very important to Social Security’s decision. Remember that your doctor writes down what you say in the appointment. Do not tell your doctor you are “fine” if you are not. “Fine” to you may mean “as miserable as the last time” you saw them. If you are having a good day, and tell your doctor that you are “better,” but tell them that today you are having a good day, but you are still having symptoms.

 

3. Fill out and return the forms to Social Security. Social Security will send you a “Continuing Disability Review Report.” It does not have to be perfect but you do have to fill it out. You are not applying for a job but explaining why you are disabled. The forms don’t have to be typed, eloquent or fancy. If you do not fill out the form, Social Security will likely deny your claim.

 

4. Tell Social Security about all of your health care providers. Make sure you list all of your health care providers even if you think they are not relevant. This includes treating doctors, specialists, nurses, mental health therapists, physical therapists, chiropractors, hospitals, naturopaths, etc. Social Security will consider your all of your problems when deciding if you are disabled. Also include new problems.

 

5. Do not exaggerate or minimize your problems. If you rarely leave your home, do not say you never leave your home. You do not need to be bed ridden to keep your disability benefits. If asked to describe a typical day, do not describe a very good day or a very bad day. Do not describe your ideal day. Be honest with yourself. Many people feel guilty and ashamed that they do not do more throughout the day, so they exaggerate their activities. Do not do this. Also, do not minimize your typical daily activities.

 

6. Consultative Examinations. You may be asked to attend an examination with an independent Medical Doctor or psychologist to examine you. Social Security Rules provide that you are entitled to have your own treating doctor perform the Consultative Evaluation; however, this can prove difficult as SSA does not pay very much for the examination, and many doctors decline the opportunity. If you do not have a treating doctor who will do the examination for you, I normally recommend that my clients attend the CE. This is because Social Security may deny your claim for “failure to Cooperate” or “insufficient medical evidence” if you do not attend.

 

7. Appeal quickly. If you are denied benefits, you may be able to continue receiving the benefits pending appeal. In order to keep your benefits pending appeal, you must file the request for reconsideration within 10 days of receiving the notice that your benefits will stop. In addition to filing the appeal (the request for reconsideration) you should also file a benefit continuation election statement. If you are denied again at reconsideration, file your request for a hearing. You may be able to continue receiving benefits if you appeal this denial within 10 days of receiving the notice and if you file the benefit continuation election statement. If you lose at a hearing, your benefits will stop pending appeal. However, if you are denied benefits at a hearing, you cannot continue getting benefits pending further appeals.

 

 

 

The Trial Work Period–How does is apply to me?

Posted in After You are Awarded Benefits

Many beneficiaries of Social Security Disability (SSDI) are reluctant to pursue working due to fear that any income received will jeopardize their benefits. This reticence is perfectly understandable; however, the Social Security Administration has specially designed rules that will allow a disability benefit recipient to retain their payments while they attempt to return to work. It is a good idea to fully review the rules prior to accepting employment.

The 9 Month Trial Work Period (TWP)

The 9 month Trial Work Period (“TWP”) is designed to allow SSDI recipients to try working while still receiving their full monthly benefit. This is a 9 month period that is not necessarily consecutive, and can span a 5 year period. During these nine months, a person may earn an unlimited amount without losing or reducing their monthly cash benefit. The purpose of the TWP is to encourage disability recipients to go back to work when they can.

A TWP month is triggered whenever an individual earns more than $770 per month or when a self-employed individual works 80 hours in a month.

During your TWP, it is important to inform your local Social Security field office of your earnings for each month that you work. It is helpful to either visit the office in person, and have your earnings record copied and time stamped as proof of delivery. In the alternative, you may send your pay stubs via certified mail before the 10th day of month after the month in which you had earnings.

The Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE)

Once you’ve exhausted your 9 month TWP, the Extended Period of Eligibility (“EPE”) begins. The EPE is a 36 consecutive month period during which you’ll continue to receive your full benefit every month so long as you remain disabled and earn less than Social Security’s Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) threshold. In 2014, the SGA level is $1,070 for non-blind individuals and $1,800 for the blind.

If you earn over SGA in any month during the EPE, you’ll lose that month’s benefit, and it will also cause Social Security to find that your disability has “ceased.” Once that happens, you will be paid in full for that month and an additional two-month grace period before your benefits stop.

If you stop working, or your earnings fall below SGA again during the EPE, contact Social Security and your benefits will be reinstated without having to file a new application. When the 36-month re-entitlement period ends, your benefits will continue as long as you are medically disabled and not earning SGA. If you earn over SGA for even one month after the 36-month period of re-entitlement, your benefits will terminate. However, if your medical condition makes you stop working again, you may be eligible for “expedited reinstatement” of your benefits  if it’s within five years of the end of your EPE.

Impairment Related Work Expenses(“IRWEs”)

All of your monthly pre-tax earnings are applied to the TWP income threshold, but you may deduct any impairment-related work expenses that you pay for out-of-pocket. An IRWE is anything impairment-related that you require to enable you to work. This includes special equipment or medical supplies needed for mobility or transportation, or service-animal related expenses. Be certain to keep all receipts of your impairment-related expenses for submission to Social Security so that your earnings are properly calculated.

Work and Continuing Disability Reviews (CDR)

Many disability beneficiaries also worry that attempting to work will lead to their benefits being terminated through a Continuing Disability Review (“CDR”). However, CDRs are generally conducted randomly by Social Security. While it’s possible for a CDR to occur during a Trial Work Period (or at any other time), a TWP by itself is not likely to raise a red flag with Social Security. If you do have a review, Social Security will look at your medical records, not your attempt at working, to determine if you are still disabled.

The Ticket to Work Program

If you’re an SSDI recipient wanting to work but unable to perform any of your past jobs, you may be eligible for free vocational rehabilitation or technical training through SSA’s  Ticket to Work program. Those participating in Ticket to Work will be evaluated at a vocational rehabilitation office, and a plan will be developed for the individual to try to return to the workforce. As an added incentive, Social Security agrees to not initiate a Continuing Disability Review of an individual in the Ticket to Work program.