Imagine you’ve had an accident. You will require surgery and time to recuperate that will keep you completely unable to work, but your doctor believes that you will eventually make a full recovery. You know that Social Security does not offer partial disability payments, either through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), so you might think that makes you ineligible for Social Security Disability benefits.
Although that may end up being true, Social Security Administration (SSA) allows for closed periods of disability to address scenarios similar to the one above. If you meet the requirements for a closed period, you will receive some disability benefits, but they will not be ongoing after a certain point.
A closed period of disability means that you are no longer disabled, but you were approved for disability benefits during a time when you were completely unable to work due to an accident or illness. The closed period opens at the onset of your disability and closes when you are able to return to work at a level that meets SSA’s definition of substantial gainful activity (SGA).
In order to qualify for a closed period of disability, you must meet all of the same criteria as people who apply for ongoing benefits. The only difference is that you need to be completely unable to work for at least 12 consecutive months rather than be permanently disabled or suffer from a condition that is expected to result in your death.
Should you be awarded benefits for a closed period of disability, you will receive benefits only for the months (at least 12) that you were completely unable to work. You must file your application for benefits within 14 months of your disability ending. If you miss this filing deadline but can show that you were unable to file within the required period of time because of your condition, you may be able to file an application anywhere from 15 to 36 months after your disability ended.
Not everyone who is awarded a closed period of benefits applies for a closed period. You may file a claim for ongoing benefits, but if an administrative law judge (ALJ) at your hearing determines that you have recovered and can resume your job duties, he or she will award you benefits only for the time that he or she believes you were completely unable to work.
Closed periods also allow you to freeze your earnings record during the time you were unable to work, so even if you return to work, your ultimate retirement benefits will not be reduced by any zero-income years that otherwise would have been factored into your overall work history.
Please know that the benefit amount you receive may be affected by which kind of benefits you apply for in the first place. If you are awarded SSI benefits for a closed period, you will receive the full amount of SSI benefits for the duration of the closed period; if, on the other hand, you are awarded SSDI benefits for a closed period, SSA still requires the five-month waiting period, so five months’ worth of benefits will be subtracted from your total disability award for the closed period.