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What is the Difference between a Psychological Improvement and a Medical Improvement?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) periodically reviews the eligibility status of anyone receiving Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits. During a continuing disability review (CDR), the SSA looks at two things in order to determine if you are still eligible for SSD benefits: work activity and improvement in the condition that qualified you for SSD in the first place.

If you’re able to work and have kept the SSA updated on your work activity, then the review of your work status should have no affect on your SSD eligibility. This is because the SSA will already be aware of your earnings and will have previously reviewed this data and adjusted your SSD benefits accordingly.

Medical improvement is the second factor that’s reviewed during a CDR. In terms of initial and continuing eligibility for SSD benefits, the SSA views medical and psychological conditions the same way. You can qualify for SSD benefits with a psychological condition or a medical one. In either case, the condition from which you suffer must severely limit your ability to maintain gainful employment.

Just as medical and psychological conditions are handled the same way by the SSA with initial qualification for benefits, they are with CDRs as well. In other words, significant improvement in the condition from which you suffer – whether psychological or physical in nature – is classified as a medical improvement by the SSA. Significant medical improvement can lead to discontinuation of SSD benefits following a CDR.

Many applicants for SSD have both physical and psychological signs and symptoms. There are also many who have physical disabilities that experience acute or temporary depression, anxiety or other psychological conditions, particularly at the onset of a disabling physical condition.

While a person with an illness or other disability may learn over time to deal better emotionally with their physical limitations and their psychological condition may improve as a result, the physical disability may still significantly limit them. In a case such as this, psychological improvement may not cause the SSA to end SSD benefits.

If the physical condition is sufficient on its own to qualify as “medically eligible” even with significant psychological improvement, then you may still be found eligible for SSD benefits after the continuing disability review. If however psychological improvement makes it possible for you to maintain gainful employment even with your physical limitations, then you may not any longer be considered medically eligible for SSD benefits after the CDR. Ultimately, the determination hinges on which condition – the physical or the psychological one – played the strongest part in your inability to earn a living.