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Can Social Security cease or take away your disability benefits?

This is one of the most common questions we hear at Cannon Disability Law. And the short answer is “yes.”

Even if you win benefits, the SSA can cease or take away your benefits. This is true whether you receive SSDI or SSI benefits. But, they can only do so if your health condition improves. They determine improvement by looking at your mental and physical condition through your medical records. At any point in the future, the SSA can review your medical records. If they decide you no longer have a disability, then they can take away your benefits. The SSA calls these type of cases “cessation” cases.

Social security disability benefits take away benefits



The SSA takes away your benefits by starting a “continuing disability review.” This is a review of your medical records to see if your medical condition has improved.

The SSA is increasing the number of continuing disability reviews it performs under the guise that it will save the government money.  A continuing disability review (CDR) means that the SSA reviews your case. They review it to see if medical improvement has occurred.  If it has, they will find that you no longer have a disability and your benefits will cease. If they decide to cease your benefits, you will receive a letter in the mail stating when your benefits will end.

The SSA’s new policy of conducting more CDR’s was started by Congress. Their recent attempts to take away or cease your benefits are similar to those in the 1980’s.

The last time the SSA terminated disability benefits was during the Reagan Administration.  Between March 1981 and 1984, the SSA ceased the benefits of almost 500,000 disabled Americans. This included thousands of people with mental disabilities. If you have questions about the solvency of the disability trust fund program, then read here.

Twenty-nine states refused to follow the SSA’s instructions for termination of benefits. At the time, federal courts were clogged with appeals.  According to an article in the NOSSCR Social Security Forum, 200 federal courts threatened the government with contempt of court for refusing to pay benefits when ordered.  The Reagan Administration told Congress they saved $2.4 billion from 1981 to 1985.  However, the 1980 conference report estimated savings from 1982 to 1985 of $218 million, with a net loss at the beginning due to increased administrative resources. As you can see, the SSA can take away benefits.


To determine medical improvement, the SSA uses outlines their certain rules and procedures.

There is a statutory requirement that allows the SSA to review your entitlement to benefits. They review your case to see if there has been medical improvement. The improvement needs to show that you can return to work.

If your condition has not medically improved, then your benefits will continue. Even where medical improvement occurs, in most cases the SSA must also show that you are currently able to engage in substantial gainful activity before they can find that you are no longer disabled.

Medical improvement is any decrease in the medical severity of your condition. They look at what symptoms were present at the time of the most recent favorable medical decision in your case. In order to find medical improvement, the SSA must show there has been a decrease in medical severity. The SSA will look at improvement in the symptoms, signs, and test findings in your medical records.


Here is an example the SSA uses which shows how why they would take away benefits due to medical improvement and the ability to work.

For example, let’s say you win disability benefits for rheumatoid arthritis. Your lab findings were positive for this condition. Your doctor reported persistent swollen and tender fingers and wrists. The medical records show your complaints of joint pain.

However, current medical evidence shows that while lab tests are still positive for rheumatoid arthritis, your condition has improved. For example, the record states your fingers and wrists have not been very swollen or painful. Your medication is working.

Therefore, medical improvement has occurred because there has been a decrease in the severity of your condition as documented by the current symptoms and signs reported by your doctor. Although your illness is subject to temporary remission and exacerbations, the improvement  has been long enough to permit a finding of medical improvement. The SSA would then find your medical improvement is related to your ability to work.


Medical improvement is not related to your ability to work if there has been a decrease in the severity of your impairment, but no increase in your functional capacity to do basic work activities. If there has been any medical improvement in your condition, but it is not related to your ability to do work, then your benefits will continue.

For example, let’s say you are 65 inches tall and weigh 246 pounds when you win benefits. Your medical condition is venous insufficiency and persistent swelling in your legs. You have not been able to work, because you were not able to sit for 6 hours and you were only able to stand or walk occasionally. At the time of our continuing disability review, you had a vein operation that helped the edema in your legs.

Now you weigh 220 pounds and have intermittent leg edema. Like before, you are still able to sit for 6 hours at a time and stand or walk for short periods. You also report less discomfort while walking. Medical improvement has occurred because there has been a decrease in the severity of the condition as shown by your weight loss and the improvement in your edema.

This medical improvement is not related to your ability to work, however, because your functional capacity to do basic work activities is not better. Nevertheless, the SSA can still take away your benefits because they can say there has been improvement. If there is improvement, then your benefits end. Learn more about how benefits end here.  It is up to you to prove that you still cannot work.


No matter the savings, it is unconscionable to “save” money by taking away the benefits of individuals who need them most.  If your case comes under review with the CDR program, then the SSA must follow specific rules. They must find medical improvement in order to take away your benefits.

We don’t always accept cessation cases. The reason we don’t always accept this type of case is because people elect to receive their benefits during SSA’s review of the case. If you do this, there is no back benefit from which we can receive an attorney fee. Additionally, if you lose your case and the SSA decides you are not disabled, then you have to pay the money back. This results in an overpayment.  If you want us to represent you in a cessation case, then you must elect to not receive benefits during the review process.

This is very difficult for people to do. However, this is the only option available for most people to pay attorney fee. Most people are living from monthly payment to monthly payment. Similarly, they do not have savings.  If you elect to receive benefits during the review of your case, then you are also choosing to pay it back to the SSA if their decision goes against you. Trust us. You do not want an overpayment. If your case comes under review, then elect to not receive benefits during the review process.


You do not need to try to win SSD benefits by yourself. Also, you do not need to go through an SSA review by yourself. Cannon Disability Law can help file your disability application. Also, we can help you appeal every SSA denial. That way, you can focus on your health. For example, our attorneys and staff can:

If you file your application for benefits online at Social Security’s website, then you have 6 months to complete the application.  Once you submit your application online, the SSA sends you an application summary in the mail. You must sign the summary and mail it back. Send it in quickly.

Additionally, once you receive an SSA denial, you have 60 days to file an appeal. This includes any letter sent to you that ends your benefits. You must also meet the time limit set by the SSA. If you do not meet the time limit, then you will lose your right to appeal.


You are seeking a lawyer to represent you in SSA’s review or your case. If the SSA takes away your benefits, then you need an attorney. You also need an attorney you can trust. If you want to learn more about the lawyers and staff at Cannon Disability Law, then read our About Us page. There you will find more information about each lawyer in our firm. For example, Andria Summers can help you with your Medicare plan. Likewise, she has also won thousands of SSD and SSI cases.

Dianna Cannon has many years of experience representing disability claimants. She has been an attorney for thirty years. Ms. Cannon also has licenses in a number of states. For example, she has law licenses in California, Utah, Nevada, and Washington State.

Additionally, Brett Bunkall has experience helping people obtain their SSI and SSD benefits. He has won thousands of SSD and SSI hearings. Mr. Bunkall is an expert. Similarly, all of our lawyers are Social Security experts. You can trust us to answer your questions. Especially, if the SSA tries to take away your benefits. Remember, even if you do not hire an attorney, you should still appeal SSA’s cessation decision. SSA can be wrong. Always file a timely appeal to any decision from the SSA.

If you need advice, we can help. Please call our office at 1-800-732-2323.  We offer a free review of your case. Even if we can’t represent you, we will still answer your questions. Cannon Disability Law can help you keep your SSD and SSI benefits.

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