Most people who apply for social security disability benefits know that they will never be able to return to work. However, many people with medical impairments want to know if the can apply for benefits if they are only going to be off work for a few months, or if they are planning to go back to work at some point in the future.
Unlike many other benefits programs, such as workers’ compensation or private disability plans, the Social Security Administration does not offer short term or temporary benefits. To be entitled to social security disability, a person must be disabled for at least 12 consecutive months. Disability is defined as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity due to a medical impairment or combination of medical impairments (in layman’s terms, inability to work any job, on full time basis, due to medical conditions).
As the above implies, a person can apply for a “closed period” of benefits if they do return to work, if they are disabled for at least 12 months or more. For example, take a person who is in a car accident, and is unable to perform any kind or work due to injuries suffered in that accident. They apply for disability, but, after 12 months (or more), they recover and can return to work (again, any work). That person could get a closed period benefits for the 12 months (or more) that they were unable to work.
Please note that not all work done after someone alleges disability precludes entitlement to benefits. Only work that is “substantial” (i.e., earning more than $1220/month, gross in 2019) will preclude entitlement to benefits. Furthermore, if a person claiming to disabled does work that is substantial but has to quit after 6 months or less due to their conditions, this may be considered an “unsuccessful work attempt,” and not considered substantial work. Lastly, even if a person engages in substantial work, it may not preclude benefits if they have “income related work expenses.” These are out-of-pocket costs for items related to a person’s medical conditions that enable them to work (for example, medical goods such as equipment, supplies, or medicines, and services such as special transportation to and from work or home care to help get ready for work).
The bottom line is, social security requires you to be unable to work any job full time for 12 consecutive months or more. However, due to the various exceptions to work rules, which can be complicated, hiring an attorney to get advice specific to your circumstances is often your best option.