August 21, 2014

What is a closed period of disability?

In order to qualify for disability benefits, you must have a disability that has lasted or is expected to last at least twelve months.  Although, sometimes I work with clients whose health problems lasted more than twelve months, but they have recovered and are now able to return to work.  Even though they are relieved to be able to return to full-time employment, these clients want to know if they can receive disability benefits for that time period in which their conditions kept them from being able to work.

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In cases like these, we ask the Social Security Administration (SSA) for a “closed period of disability.”  In other words, we acknowledge that the client does not presently meet Social Security’s definition of disabled, but we argue that the client did meet that definition in the past.  For example, Betty had to stop working in October of 2012 after she injured her back.  She spent nine months trying different types of treatments, from physical therapy to injections, but nothing helped.  Finally, her doctor scheduled her for back surgery in August of 2013.  It took another six months of recovery and rehabilitation, but Betty was finally able to return to work full-time in February of 2014. Assuming that Betty met Social Security’s requirements for disability from the time of her injury in October 2012 until she returned to work in February 2014, she could receive benefits for a closed period from October 2012 to February 2014.

An applicant for a closed period of disability must meet two criteria:

  • Her impairments must have prevented her from performing substantial gainful activity for at least twelve continuous months; and
  • She must have applied for disability either before her disability ended or within fourteen months of her disability ending.

Most of my cases involving closed periods of disability come up when my client filed for disability shortly after her disability began, but her claim was denied, and she had to wait over a year before her hearing was held.  By the time her hearing arrives, her condition has improved and she has returned to work.  Even though my client is not eligible to receive continuing monthly benefits, we ask the judge to award her the benefits she should have been receiving during the time when her disability prevented her from working.

Being unable to work for a prolonged time due to a disability creates financial challenges for you and your family, and those challenges don’t always disappear once you are able to return to work.  A closed period of disability may be an option for you to obtain the benefits you should have been receiving during the time your impairments prevented you from working full-time.

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