What Is a Continuing Disability Review?

If you’re receiving disability benefits from Social Security, the SSA may occasionally check up on you to make sure you’re still eligible for monthly payments.

By , J.D. · Albany Law School

If you're receiving Social Security disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) must have determined that you were disabled and unable to work. But, whether you're receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or both, your disability determination isn't permanent.

Social Security will periodically review your disabilities to ensure that you're still disabled and unable to earn a living. This periodic review is called a "continuing disability review" (CDR). At a CDR, the SSA will reassess your case and determine whether to continue or stop your benefits.

How Often Can You Expect a CDR?

If your disability is expected to improve, you'll likely have a CDR every 6 to 18 months. If the SSA believes that it's possible your condition could improve, you'll have a CDR at least every three years. Even if your disability is considered permanent (meaning it isn't expected to improve), you can expect a CDR at least once every seven years, but not more often than every five years.

Can a Disability Review Happen at Other Times?

Despite the basic guidelines above, CDRs can occur anytime if the SSA has a reason to review your case. There are a variety of situations that trigger a CDR. Below is a list of situations that will prompt a Continuing Disability Review.

Your Disability Is Short-Term and Expected to Improve

Certain disabilities are expected to improve and therefore have shorter times between reviews. For example:

  • If you receive a stem cell transplant, you could be considered disabled for just one year after the transplant.
  • If you're disabled by a bone fracture, your impairment is considered likely to improve.

Scheduled surgeries are another factor the SSA will consider in determining if your disability is expected to improve.

Advances in Medicine Could Help Your Disability

You might need to submit current medical reports to show you're still disabled if there are improvements in the medical field that could affect your disability. For example, a new and very effective medication to treat early Alzheimer's might allow an individual suffering from the condition to return to work.

You've Used a Trial Work Period

If your condition has improved, you may want to return to work (because working often pays more than you'd get in disability benefits). The SSA allows SSDI recipients to try working without risking disability benefits during a trial work period (up to 9 months over a rolling 60-month period).

Whether your work activity triggers a CDR depends on how long you've received benefits. Suppose you finished doing trial work but haven't received 24 months of SSDI benefits. In that case, your work activity could trigger a CDR since a key part of receiving disability benefits is the inability to work.

But if you've received 24 months of benefits, no work activity you do will trigger a CDR because the SSA encourages long-time recipients to try to go back to work.

You Report Substantial Earnings While Receiving SSI

Under the SSA's rules, if you're capable of performing "substantial gainful activity" (SGA), you're not eligible for disability benefits. The SSA has set a limit on the amount you can earn and still be considered disabled. If you report earnings (wages and work-related pre-tax income) near the SGA limit, you can expect to face a continuing disability review unless:

  • you've received 24 months of SSI benefits, or
  • you're participating in SSI's Ticket to Work (a work incentive program).

Vocation Rehabilitation Report

You'll generally have a vocational reexamination once your vocational services are completed to assess your ability to work after receiving services. As with nearing the SGA limit, a CDR will occur if Vocational Rehab finds that you're working or able to work, unless:

  • you've received 24 months of disability benefits, or
  • you're participating in SSI's Ticket to Work program.

If Someone You Know Reports You to the SSA

If the SSA receives a report claiming you shouldn't be eligible for disability from someone who knows you, and the agency believes it to be true, it can trigger a CDR. Reports that can prompt a review include those stating that:

  • you're no longer disabled
  • you've returned to work, or
  • you're violating SSA regulations.

The CDR Evaluation Process

In evaluating whether or not you're still disabled, SSA will look at several factors during a CDR, including:

  • whether you are currently involved in substantial gainful activity
  • whether you still meet or equal an SSA disability listing, and
  • whether there are any improvements in your impairment that might have increased your ability to work.

It's important to note that the SSA will also assess your compliance with current program rules. For example, if you refuse to follow prescribed treatment that could restore your ability to work, you might lose your benefits.

The evaluation process will begin with you receiving a form in the mail from the SSA. Once you complete the form and send it back, the SSA will review it and either send you a longer form to fill out or tell you that you passed the CDR.

The wait time to hear a response from the SSA can range from several weeks to several months, depending on the backlog your state is experiencing with CDRs. The approval rate (meaning the continuation of benefits) for CDRs nationally is just under 75%.

What If Your Benefits Are Stopped Due to the CDR?

If your benefits are stopped (called "cessation"), you have the right to appeal. To appeal, it's essential that you send a reply to the SSA within the required time frame. Waiting too long can result in a denial.

You can find instructions for how to appeal in the cessation notice you receive from the SSA (the letter telling you your benefits are being stopped). The first step is to request a review by the state disability determination agency's hearing office. Upon reviewing your file, the SSA could reverse the cessation right away. But if it isn't, you can continue to appeal your case.

Just like your initial disability determination, you have the right to multiple appeals. The next step is a hearing before a disability hearing officer or DHO. If your DHO appeal fails, you can keep appealing up the line to:

  • an administrative law judge (ALJ)
  • the Appeals Council, and finally
  • your federal district court.

Although you aren't required to have an attorney for your CDR appeal, consulting with a Social Security disability lawyer could be in your best interest. Learn more about finding a good disability lawyer for your case.

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