The Social Security disability process can be very lengthy, sometimes taking three (3) years or more for a final decision to be made. Most claimants have to make an initial application, a Reconsideration appeal, and go through an Administrative Law Judge hearing before receiving a favorable decision. Due to the time period between application and hearing, some claimants may find that their condition has improved to the point they are able to return to gainful employment before their disability claim has gone through all the steps for a final determination.
If the Social Security Administration determines that you were disabled, but your condition improved while you were still waiting on a disability decision, then you can still be awarded disability benefits from the established date of onset of your disability until you became able to return to gainful employment. This period of time is known as a “closed period benefit.” To be eligible for closed period disability benefits, the period of disability must have lasted at least twelve (12) months.
Any retroactive pay for the closed period benefit is still subject to the five (5) month disability waiting period and the Social Security Administration automatically subtracts the first five (5) full months from the disability pay. In other words, if you were found to be disabled for a period of fifteen (15) months, you would only receive disability pay for 10 months. This rule does not apply to retroactive Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Disability claimants are more likely to be successful in receiving disability awards if they are able to return to work because the Social Security Administration assumes less risk in awarding benefits for the closed benefit period than in situations where the disability is ongoing and possibly continuing for decades (or until you reach your SS retirement age). If you are able to return to work, the period for which you were found to be disabled is excluded in determining your future work credits which may impact the amount of Social Security retirement income you are entitled to receive.