This is a situation that occurs from time to time at our office: a client leaves us an overnight voicemail message telling us that they are going back to work and they are dropping their claim for Social Security disability benefits. “This is a mistake for several reasons,” Nash Attorney Dan Rosen says. “It is only natural to feel anxious and conflicted about applying for disability benefits. It is quite common for an individual with a disability to make a good-faith attempt at returning to work, but then find they are unable to sustain employment due to their impairments. Mistakenly, they often believe that a return to work or even an attempted return to work makes them ineligible for disability benefits. This is not always the case.”
The Social Security Administration (SSA) can classify a failed effort to go back to work an unsuccessful work attempt (UWA),which the SSA treats as a permitted “excuse” for why an individual is working even though that person is applying for disability benefits. If you try to work for a short period of time (generally up to six months), but the job ends because of your health problems, this may not prevent you from obtaining benefits. An UWA may even be proof of your disability, if you have tried to work on multiple occasions, but have not been able to sustain those jobs due to your medical problems.
What counts as an UWA? You must have stopped working due to a disability for 30 days or more before starting a new attempt at work (the one you want to be considered a UWA). The job cannot have lasted for more than six months. Disability claims involving an unsuccessful work attempt can get tricky and you may need the help of a disability lawyer to argue your case at a hearing.
Even a successful return to work does not necessarily shut you out of eligibility for partial benefits. You may be eligible for benefits for the time you were out of work due to your impairment. Dan Rosen points to a case where he was representing a truck driver who, due to a traumatic injury, suffered severe, debilitating back pain. The loss of work put him in a tough financial spot. Despite the pain, he went back to driving over-the-road. He abandoned his benefits claim and broke off all contact with Nash Disability Law. Had he persevered, he might have been awarded compensation for the months of work that he missed. Conversely, Nash Disability Law represented a young woman who was suffering from breast cancer which prevented her from working for many months. Happily, she recovered, her cancer went into remission, and she was able to go back to full-time work. She stayed in touch with Nash Disability Law. At her hearing the ALJ awarded her compensation for the time she was unable to work.
“While each case is different, work does not automatically mean the end of your case,” Mr. Rosen points out. “But Social Security disability rules and procedures are complex and difficult to navigate. And Social Security is entitled to know the facts surrounding any work activity. If you are disabled and pursuing or even considering pursuing a disability claim, don’t ask your neighbor or turn to Google. Instead, you should stay in touch with your attorney so that you can be provided the right advice under your unique circumstances.”