The Trump administration is proposing changes to Social Security disability requirements that could affect the disability payments of thousands of Americans. This proposition would change the rules of the disability review process. Disability reviews is the method that the Social Security Administration uses to determine whether a person continues to qualify for benefits.

Typically, Americans who are too physically and/ or mentally impaired to work may be eligible for one or two kinds of benefits known as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). More than 16 million Americans receive either SSDI or SSI. For one to get these benefits is an extraordinarily difficult task. It can take years and requires applicants to compile multiple documents, then state and restate their cases in front of administrative law judges.

Those already receiving benefits are subject to continuing disability reviews. These reviews determine whether they are still qualified to receive disability benefits due to an injury, illness, or other incapacitating problems as their lives progress. Not everyone gets reviewed within the same time frame. There are currently three different categories of benefit recipients that all go through review at different rates. The first category is called “Medical Improvement Not Expected” which is subject to review every five to seven years. The second is “Medical Improvement Expected” which is reviewed every six to eighteen months. The third is “Medical Improvement Possible” which is reviewed at least once every three years. All three categories are based on existing medical standards meant to help officials decide whether benefits are still warranted.

The proposed rule change would create a fourth category: “Medical Improvement Likely,” which would mandate disability reviews every two years, creating additional 2.6 million reviews over the first 10-year period. The group of disability benefit recipients that would fall in to this new category is referred to as Step 5 recipients (an internal Social Security classification). These recipients suffer from a combination of disabilities that make working difficult or impossible and they are entitled to SSI or SSDI benefits, according to federal law.  They are typically 50 to 65 years of age, in poor health, without much education or many job skills. They often suffer from maladies such as debilitating back pain, depression, a herniated disc, or schizophrenia.

The inclusion of Step 5 people in the “Medical Improvement Likely” category appears to make little sense, advocates for recipients say. Medical conditions generally deteriorate as already unhealthy people age, and no evidence exists that such beneficiaries are “likely” to improve, say those who oppose the new rule. Whether this proposed change is approved or not, the disability review process will continue. If your benefits have been terminated as a result of a disability review, our firm can help you navigate the appeal process and fight to reinstate your benefits.