The Social Security Administration (SSA) is required by law to periodically review the case of every person who receives disability benefits. This process is called a continuing disability review (CDR) and is meant to identify recipients who might no longer qualify as disabled. If the SSA concludes after its CDR that your medical condition has improved enough that you can return to work, your Social Security benefits will end.
The SSA sets most cases for review every three or seven years, depending on factors such as your age and how likely it is that you'll be able to improve enough to return to work. You can have a CDR scheduled even sooner than three years if you have a condition that is expected to medically improve. Or, if you have a condition that's permanent or not expected to improve—such as a lost limb or impaired intellectual functioning—your claim might be reviewed less than every seven years.
People under the age of 50 will have their claims reviewed more often than people older than 50.
Children who receive SSI disability benefits automatically have their claims reviewed when they turn 18. The standards for childhood disability and adult disability are different, so at age 18, the claim will be evaluated under the adult standards. Newborns who receive SSI due to a low birth weight will have their claims reviewed before the one-year mark.
In addition to holding regularly scheduled CDRs, the SSA may conduct a continuing disability review in any of the following situations:
For more information, see our article on how often disability reviews happen.
Most of the time, passing a CDR is a lot easier than getting disability benefits in the first place. If your condition hasn't improved enough for you to be able to return to work, Social Security will complete the review and your benefits won't be affected. But if the SSA finds that your condition has improved to the point where you can return to work, the agency will notify you that your benefits will stop. If that happens, you can choose to appeal the decision. You can choose to continue receiving benefits while your appeal is being considered.
The best way to make sure your CDR goes smoothly is to get regular medical treatment and to keep the SSA in the loop regarding your medical records. The agency will want to see that you're still going to the doctor, following your doctors' recommendations, and trying any new treatments that could help you improve enough to return to work. Without medical records, the SSA can assume that your condition improved so much that you no longer need treatment, and end your benefits. (For more information, see our article on the medical improvement review standard.)
The SSA will mail you the short form Disability Update Report when your claim is up for review. Make sure that you answer this two-page form honestly. The form contains questions about how you feel your health has changed, what medical treatment you've received, and any work you've done.
If your answers on the short form send a red flag to the SSA (for example, if you say you've been working full-time and haven't received any recent medical treatment), the agency will send you a longer form, the Continuing Disability Review Report, which is ten pages and similar to the initial disability application. Learn more about the short and long forms here.
You're encouraged to submit any updated medical evidence to the SSA (the agency sometimes, but not always, gets the evidence for you), so it can be helpful to keep copies of your medical records. The SSA generally reviews your medical records from 12 months before your CDR to look for evidence of improvement, but the agency can look at evidence from any time after you were initially granted benefits.
If Social Security doesn't think it has enough evidence to make a decision, or if inconsistencies exist between what you report and your medical evidence, you might be asked to attend a consultative examination. Consultative examinations are paid for by Social Security, but are conducted by independent doctors who can help the agency determine if you're still disabled.
If Social Security decides to terminate your benefits because you are no longer disabled and are able to work, you can appeal the CDR decision. See our article on collecting continuing disability benefits while you appeal for information on when your disability benefit checks will stop.
Updated June 30, 2022