While most disabled people keep receiving benefits until full retirement age (67, when benefits switch from disability to retirement), some people recover enough from their condition to return to work. The Social Security Administration (SSA) is required by law to periodically review disability recipients to determine whether they are still disabled. This process is called a "continuing disability review," or CDR.
Your initial award notice will tell you when you can expect your first review. The frequency of your CDRs will depend on your age and how likely you are to improve enough to return to work.
Some people have medical conditions that improve with treatment, while others have conditions that stay the same or get worse. Based on these categories, the SSA will establish a review schedule for your case called a "diary." This diary will contain the dates of your CDRs. Diaries do end ("mature") eventually, after which you won't have any more CDRs.
Cases that Social Security has designated "medical improvement expected (MIE)" have a high probability that the disabled person will recover enough to be able to return to work. MIE cases tend to involve conditions that require intensive treatment for a year or more, but the treatment is often very successful. (Certain cancers and organ transplants fall in this category.)
If your case is classified as MIE, you'll have your CDRs scheduled more frequently than every three years. You can expect your first CDR six to 18 months after you begin receiving benefits.
In most cases, if you're over 55 years old, you won't get a CDR even if your case is designated MIE. But if your case indicates that recovery is almost certain (such as some fractures, dislocations, or sprains), your diary won't mature until you're almost 60.
If your case has been labeled as "medical improvement possible (MIP)," the SSA isn't sure if you'll ever be able to return to work, but the agency doesn't want to rule out this possibility. Common conditions such as back injuries and mental health disorders often fall in this category, because you might undergo surgery or start a new medication that improves your health significantly.
If your case is classified as MIP, your CDRs will be scheduled every three years. For most cases, you'll stop being scheduled for CDRs after age 52, with some exceptions for cancers in remission or bone fractures.
Cases categorized as "medical improvement not expected (MINE)" involve conditions that are permanent, irreversible, and don't have any currently known treatments. Disorders such as Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome are a few examples that would fall under the MINE classification.
If your case is classified as MINE, your CDRs will occur every five or seven years.
Child SSI recipients will usually have their cases reviewed every three years. Infants who were approved for low birth weight generally have their cases reviewed at age 1. All child recipients have their cases reviewed at the time they turn 18, regardless of their disability.
Reviewers who work for Social Security are instructed to use "sound adjudicative judgment" when deciding whether medical improvement is expected or unlikely. Recipients in their twenties and thirties often have more CDRs simply because they are more likely to improve before retirement age. But each individual case is different, and health can be hard to predict.
The agency can increase or decrease the frequency of your CDRs based on new medical evidence. If you were previously scheduled under the "medical improvement expected" diary, but your previous CDRs showed that your condition was stable or worsening, your case might be reclassified as "medical improvement possible," and you'll have fewer CDRs in the future.
If the SSA thinks you're unlikely to improve enough to return to work, the agency will mail you the short form Disability Update Report when your case is up for review. If the SSA thinks you have a higher chance of medical improvement, the agency will mail you a longer form, the Continuing Disability Review Report.
Most disability recipients receive the short form, and the review usually ends after they send in the form. For more information, see our article on the CDR process and how long it takes.
Passing a CDR is usually a lot easier than getting disability benefits in the first place. The majority of recipients don't lose benefits after a CDR. For more information, see our article on your chances of keeping your benefits after a CDR.
The SSA offers two types of disability benefits, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Because SSI is a needs-based program with income and asset limits, if you receive SSI benefits, the agency will periodically review your financial resources to see if you're still within the allowable limits (in what's called a "redetermination").
Redeterminations are in addition to, but separate from, CDRs. People who receive SSI will undergo both. While CDRs are only concerned with your medical records, redeterminations involve a review of your income, resources, and living arrangements. If you only receive SSI and the agency finds that you're outside the allowable limits, your benefits will stop even if you pass your CDR.
Redeterminations are conducted every one to six years. Your SSI claim will also be redetermined if something changes that could affect your eligibility (for example, you get married). For more information on financial eligibility for SSI, see our section on SSI requirements.
Updated July 1, 2022