What Should You Know About The Changing Standards For Federal Disability Benefits?

Posted on: 25 June 2015

Whether you're currently receiving federal disability benefits or are considering applying for the first time, you may have heard various news reports concerning the Social Security Disability fund running dry, with disability benefits set to be cut by up to 20 percent beginning in 2016. In an effort to help stretch the remaining Social Security Disability (SSD) dollars, lawmakers have proposed a number of changes to the eligibility standards used to determine whether someone may receive SSD and how much their monthly stipend will be. Read on find out more about the changing standards for SSD payments, as well as what you can do to help preserve your disability income. 

What changes are being proposed?

Although no changes to the SSD program have yet been finalized, there are several proposals gaining significant traction -- and Congress must act soon in order to ensure that current recipients can continue to receive benefits without interruption. These proposed changes include:

  • Tightening of eligibility criteria

In exchange for their placing more money into the Social Security fund, lawmakers have requested that the criteria one must meet to qualify for disability benefits be made more stringent. These changes would affect not only those requesting payments in the future, but those whose SSD claims have already been approved. In the latter situation, such claims may be re-evaluated, and you could be required to again demonstrate your eligibility for disability benefits under these new, tighter standards. 

  • Ability to return to work 

Many of the updated standards will deal with one's ability to return to work following a disabling event. Currently, an individual can receive SSD even if they are able to perform some work, but are unable to work a full shift, or if they have an intermittent condition (like bipolar disorder or Crohn's disease) that makes holding down a steady job difficult.

By limiting disability payments to only those who are unable to perform any work for any period of time, the federal government can help trim the disability rolls and save a substantial amount of money. However, those who are able to work for only brief periods will still have trouble making ends meet.

Because the Social Security Administration conducts periodic and random checks to ensure that benefit recipients still qualify for SSD (usually every 3-7 years), should these new standards go into effect, you could find yourself facing a loss of benefits -- or even being billed for past payments if the SSA determines that you received SSD payments while not disabled. However, it's unlikely these new standards will be retroactive, so if this does happen to you, the government will be unable to request the return of any funds disbursed before the new regulations go into effect.

Is there anything you can do to preserve your benefits?

Assuming the SSD eligibility criteria are made more restrictive, there are a few things you can do to reduce the chances of your benefits being revoked. 

You'll need clear documentation of the extent of your disability and the limitations it places on your daily life. Although this type of documentation is usually prepared by your physician and attorney when you initially file for disability benefits, it's often not updated -- and if the SSA requests information from you to evaluate your continued eligibility, you'll want to be able to provide a complete and thorough report quickly, before your benefits are interrupted.

You'll also want to be sure that you're making regular appointments with your primary care physician and any specialists. One behavior that may send up red flags with the Social Security Administration is the cessation of doctor's visits -- the SSA may infer that, if you're not disabled enough to be receiving regular medical treatment, you're not too disabled to work.

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