It's not uncommon for Social Security to take more than a year to decide a disability claim. So, what happens if your condition improves before your Social Security approves your SSDI or SSI application?
If you're no longer disabled by the time your claim is approved, Social Security can decide that you're not eligible for ongoing disability benefits but you are eligible to receive benefits for a period of time in the past. So, even if you've improved enough to go back to work, you might still qualify for a closed period of benefits.
Here's what you need to know about getting closed-period disability benefits.
Social Security defines a "closed period of disability" as a period of disability with a definite beginning date and ending date. The beginning date is your disability onset date, and the ending date is when you were able to return to work at the SGA level or when you reached full retirement age. (20 C.F.R. § 404.321.)
Unlike an open period of disability, which can qualify you for ongoing monthly disability benefits, a closed period of disability provides benefits only for the months (or years) that Social Security says you were disabled.
You might receive only a closed period of benefits if Social Security decides that:
If you were disabled for at least a year but returned to work while waiting for your disability claim to be approved, you might apply for a closed period of disability benefits.
To qualify for Social Security benefits for a closed period of disability, you must:
If you miss the 14-month deadline and can show that you missed the deadline because of your mental (or physical) impairment, you might have up to 36 months after your disability ends to file your application for a closed period of benefits. (20 C.F.R § 404.322.)
Many people don't apply for a closed period of benefits, however. They simply apply for disability benefits when they become disabled, with the intention that they'll need disability benefits permanently. For some of these applicants, Social Security decides that, while they were truly disabled and unable to work for a period of time, they are no longer disabled. And so their claim for benefits becomes an approval for a closed period of benefits.
It might sometimes be easier to receive closed-period disability benefits than open-period benefits. If you're approved for an open period disability of disability, you'll likely continue to receive disability benefits for at least a few years, if not forever, which can be costly for Social Security. Approving a closed-period claim involves less financial risk for the SSA.
In addition, applying for a closed-period benefit can affect how a disability claims examiner or administrative law judge (ALJ) views your credibility. If you apply for a closed-period benefit because you couldn't work for a while, but then your condition improved enough for you to return to work, it can be interpreted as strong evidence that you honestly suffered a disability.
Although Social Security approves closed-period disability benefits for both SSI and SSDI applicants, the payment rules differ between the programs.
If you're granted SSI benefits for a closed period, you're entitled to receive SSI disability benefits for the entire period of the disability. So, if you're approved for 14 months of SSI, you'll receive back pay covering all 14 months. (Learn about Social Security's rules for SSI back pay.)
If you apply for SSDI, you're subject to a five-month waiting period. In other words, five months of disability benefits will be subtracted from the disability award for the closed period. So, if you're approved for 14 months of SSDI, Social Security will only pay you for 9 months of benefits.
But there's an extra benefit to filing for a closed period of SSDI benefits. A closed period of disability helps protect your SSDI insured status. It can also increase your potential future retirement or disability benefits by putting a disability freeze on your earnings record for the time you were unable to work during the closed period. (C.F.R. § 404.320(a).)
Learn more about how a disability freeze helps you with future benefits.
Updated September 8, 2023