How to Get Off Social Security Disability

A disability application form.
A disability application form.. Kirby Hamilton/Getty Images

Many people who receive Social Security disability payments would like to become self-sufficient and self-supporting again, but worry that they could lose their benefits — both their disability payments and their medical benefits — before they're in a stable, full employment position.

Fortunately, the Social Security Administration anticipated this problem, and has implemented special rules that allow you to return to work on a trial basis without losing your benefits.

The agency also has created two programs to help you get the training, equipment and support you need in order to rejoin the working world.

Here are the details on both programs.

Getting Off Social Security Disability: The Ticket to Work Program

Ticket to Work aims to help people receiving Social Security Disability either return to work or to begin working for the first time. It's a voluntary, free program for those ages 18 through 64, and everyone who receives disability benefits through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or through Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is eligible to participate.

The program connects people who have disabilities with free employment services designed to help people with disabilities. The services provided include vocational rehabilitation, career counseling, job training, and job placement.

Ticket to Work requires you to set goals for training and employment and to meet those goals within specific time frames.

To get started, the Social Security Administration advises calling the Ticket to Work Help Line at (866) 968-7842, or visiting the agency's find help tool to locate a participating service.

Plan to Achieve Self-Support

Social Security disability programs allow beneficiaries to have very little in money and assets in order to remain eligible to receive benefits.

The Plan to Achieve Self-Support, or the PASS program, allows you to exempt certain assets from the calculations used to determine your benefits, as long as you're using those assets to go back to work.

For example, if you need supplies, equipment or tools to start a business, the PASS program would allow you to own those without losing benefits. PASS also lets you set aside money you can use for down payments or installment payments on such items as a vehicle or a computer.

You can set up a PASS through a Ticket to Work vocational counselor, through various disability advocacy groups, or through your local Social Security office.

Benefits When You Start to Work

Social Security benefits allow you to have at least a nine-month trial work period, during which you can test your ability to continue to work while you continue to receive your benefits. You must report your work to the agency, but there are no limits on your earnings during this trial work period.

After the first nine months, the agency allows you 36 months to work and still receive benefits if your income wasn't "substantial" that month (in 2016, "substantial" is defined as earning more than $1,130, or $1,820 if you're blind).

You can deduct disability-related work expenses before calculating your "substantial" earnings for that month.

It takes five years of making "substantial" earnings before the Social Security Administration will essentially close your disability file. If you must stop working because of your disability during that five-year period, you can ask for "expedited reinstatement" of your benefits, and the agency will review your case without requiring you to re-apply.

Your medical benefits will continue, too. Assuming you're still disabled but are working, you're still eligible to receive free Medicare Part A (hospital benefits) for at least 93 months following the end of your nine-month trial work period, and you can keep it longer by paying a monthly premium. You also can keep Medicare Part B (doctor's visits) as long as you pay the monthly premium.


Social Security Administration. Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) fact sheet. 

Social Security Administration. Ticket to Work program fact sheet. 

Social Security Administration. Working While Disabled fact sheet. 

Continue Reading