If my condition gets worse, will my SSD benefits increase?

Blind man walking with cane SSDI changeNo, your disability payment amounts do not increase if your condition worsens. If you already receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, the payment amount stays the same.  This is true even if your disability has become much more severe. 

When the Social Security Administration (SSA) approves your application, it decides you qualify for benefits. It is black and white. There are no grades, levels, or tiers. Either the SSA approves your application or denies it. They deem you disabled or not disabled. The payment amount does not depend on the severity of your disability. You do not need to file for benefits again if your condition worsens. 

Approval and Denial of SSDI Benefits

To qualify for Social Security disability benefits, applicants must meet certain criteria, such as:

  • They must be disabled. This usually involves conditions listed in the SSA’s Blue Book. The disability must stop the person from being able to work.
  • The condition must be expected to last at least 12 months or end in death.
  • The applicant must meet non-medical requirements. The technical criteria include accruing enough work credits through paying Social Security taxes. 
  • The applicant mustn’t engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA). Earning too much income disqualifies applicants from receiving SSDI. 

A worsening condition does not mean you can receive more benefits. But, if your condition improves, you may lose eligibility. The SSA checks on your disability from time to time. If it decides you can work, you may no longer receive benefits. A Social Security disability attorney can help you appeal this decision. 

How Disability Benefits Are Determined

The SSA uses a complex formula to calculate the amount of your disability benefits. The SSA considers your average lifetime earnings covered by Social Security. SSA indexes this amount to inflation. Part of the formula looks at your highest-earning years. This calculates your average indexed monthly earnings (AIME).

Simply put, disability benefit amounts are equal to retirement benefits. They are calculated as if you were at full retirement age when your disability began. People who have earned higher incomes over the years qualify for higher payments. Lower-income earners receive smaller amounts. 

The severity of the impairment is not a factor. Having more than one condition can help you qualify. The SSA considers their combined impact on your ability to work. But, having multiple conditions does result in higher disability payments. Your application is approved or denied. That’s it. 

A Notable Change If You Become Blind

One important detail a Social Security disability lawyer can help explain is what happens if you become blind. Losing your vision does not qualify you for more benefits. But, it changes the amount for substantial gainful activity (SGA). This is how much income you can earn while keeping your SSDI benefits.

For non-blind SSDI recipients, the SGA amount in 2023 is $1,470 per month. For people who are blind, that amount increases to $2,460 per month. This means you can work and earn over $1,000 more per month and keep your disability payments. These figures change every year. But, the amount for blind persons is always higher. 

The SSA thresholds for blindness consist of one of the following:

  • Visual acuity is 20/200 or worse in the better eye. This is with using corrective lenses.
  • The visual field is 20 degrees or less in the better eye. 

The SSA requires documentation to prove this level of visual impairment. Consult with a Social Security disability attorney before you submit any paperwork. 

Impact of Cost of Living Increases on SSD Benefits

Increases in the cost of living can increase the amount of SSD benefits. But, this is not on an individual basis. If you live in a more expensive part of the country, you do not receive more money because of it. The SSA does not restrict how you spend your SSDI benefit payments. 

Instead, the SSA adjusts benefit amounts through cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). This is based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). The CPI-W tracks changes in the prices of goods and services typically purchased by urban workers. When the CPI-W increases, SSA adjusts SSDI payments to align with inflation. SSA usually announces COLAs each January.

Individual changes aren’t reflected in COLAs. If your medical bills increase because your condition worsens, your SSDI benefits don’t change. If you move out of state to somewhere with higher rent, your SSDI payment does not increase either.

How to Get the Benefits You Deserve

An experienced Social Security disability lawyer can help you understand your rights. Keefe Disability Law has worked with clients and their SSDI applications for many years. If you already receive benefits but are worried the SSA might take them away, our team of dedicated professionals can help defend your rights. Get the full benefits you deserve.

John L. Keefe
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Founding Attorney, Massachusetts Social Security Disability Lawyer