No. An Administrative Law Judge may make a determination at hearing that a claimant met the requirements for disability, but that her condition improved medically before the decision was issued. In such instances, the Judge may award what is called a closed period of benefits. Under this award, the claimant receives back pay, but not an ongoing check.
One of the most common reasons why an ALJ would decide to issue a closed period, instead of a normal favorable award, is that the claimant has gone back to work. For a variety of reasons, many Judges are extremely hesitant to award ongoing benefits to a claimant that is currently working. However, these Judges may be persuaded to grant the claimant benefits for the time before she went back to work.
Because these closed period cases often arise when a claimant goes back to work, there is sometimes confusion with another disability procedure: the Expedited Reinstatement Process (EXR). For more on the EXR see the SSA’s summary of the program here.
Put simply, the EXR gives claimants who have had their benefits cut off solely because they went back to work an accelerated and (theoretically) easier process to have their benefits restarted. They must meet certain conditions for the EXR to apply:
- Stopped receiving benefits because of earnings from work,
- Are unable to work or perform substantial gainful activity,
- Are disabled because of an impairment(s) that is the same as or related to the impairment(s) that allowed you to get benefits earlier, and
- Make the request within 5 years from the month your benefits ended.
For people who have been awarded a closed period, this expedited program does not apply. This is because the claimant in a closed period case stopped receiving benefits because the ALJ found that there was medical improvement, not because of her earnings. Though the ALJ was likely motivated by the claimant’s work activity in making his decision, the decision itself will likely discuss a factual determination that the claimant’s health had improved.