Una Dabiero
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Community Team at Fairygodboss

Social security disability benefits are in place to help those who can’t work because of a medical condition. While they are intended to be helpful to those who need them most, they can be difficult to understand. 

How do you navigate the eligibility process, how often are you reviewed, and what do those reviews look like? We’ve outlined everything you need to know about social security disability reviews and eligibility, especially for those over 50 years old. 

What is a Social Security disability review?

A social security disability review, or a continuing disability review (CDR), is a review conducted by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to make sure the people receiving Social Security (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income disability (SSI) benefits are still entitled to those benefits. It is a periodic, routine review of your medical impairment(s) to ensure you still have a disabling condition. 

Is it easier to get SSDI at age 50?

Generally, it is easier to qualify for SSDI at the age of 50. At 50, the SSA believes it is more challenging to be retrained for a new job, allowing older folks with a condition that keeps them from doing their current job to qualify for benefits easier.

How does the SSA determine your eligibility for SSDI?

The SSA uses a five-step evaluation process to determine if someone is eligible for SSDI. They evaluate your case based on your application, along with information sent by your doctor and other medical professionals who have treated you. A case takes three to five months to be processed. 

These are the questions the SSA considers to evaluate eligibility:

1. Are you working?

If you are currently working and your monthly earnings average more than a certain amount, you will not be deemed disabled. The monthly earnings maximum — called “substantial gainful activity” — changes every year and can be found in the SSA’s annual update. If you aren’t working or make less than monthly earnings average, the SSA moves on to the next question. 

2. Is your medical condition “severe”?

To be deemed disabled, your medical condition must significantly limit your ability to do what the SSA calls basic work activities. These activities include lifting, standing, walking, sitting and remembering. Your medical condition must impact you for at least 12 months. If the SSA considers your medical condition “severe,” they will move on to the next question. 

3. Does your medical condition meet or medically equal a listing?

The SSA listing of impairments describes medical conditions that it considers severe enough to prevent gainful activity, regardless of the applicant’s age, education or work experience. Experts have specified the objective medical findings needed to satisfy the criteria of each listing. If your condition meets or medically equals the criteria of a listing according to the information provided by your medical care providers, the SSA will determine that you have a qualifying disability right then and there. 

If your condition does not meet or medically equal the criteria of a listing, the SSA will move on to the next question. 

4. Can you do the work you did before?

Here, the SSA determines whether or not your medical condition prevents you from performing any of your past work. If it doesn’t, it will be determined you do not have a qualifying disability. If it does, the SSA will move on to the next question. 

5. Can you do any other type of work?

If your medical condition prevents you from doing the work you’ve done in the past, the SSA will decide if there is other work you can do despite your condition. The agency considers your age, education, past work experience and skills. If you can do other work, you don’t have a qualifying disability. If you can’t do other work, you will be deemed disabled.

How often does Social Security disability review your case?

How often social security disability reviews your case depends on whether or not your condition is expected to improve:

  • If your improvement is deemed “expected,” your case will usually be reviewed six to 18 months after you start to receive benefits. 
  • If your improvement is deemed “possible,” your case will usually be reviewed no sooner than three years after you start to receive benefits. 
  • If your improvement is deemed “not expected,” your case will usually not be reviewed until seven years after you start to receive benefits. 

How long does it take for a Social Security disability review?

Your social security disability review can take anywhere from one month to six months, depending on which form you receive in the mail from the SSA.

  • Most people receive the short Form SSA-455, what the SSA refers to as the “mailer” or the Disability Update Report. Most people who submit this short form received word one to three months later that they do not need to be reviewed until their next routine review.
  • If you receive the long Form SSA-454, the Continuing Disability Review Report, you are being reviewed. In this case, the SSA will do a full medical review of your case, with the help of your answers. This process usually takes three to five months. 
  • 2% to 3% of people who submit a short Disability Update Report are asked to complete a full CDR one to two months later. This combination of the above processes takes five to six months, sometimes longer. 

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