The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued a decision that clarified the 12 month duration requirement used in the Social Security disability programs. The case, Barnhart v. Walton, involved an individual (Mr. Walton) who applied for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, who returned to work 11 months after his application, but before SSA had made a decision on his SSDI application. In order to be found disabled by SSA, an individual must meet the definition of disability. That definition requires that the individual be unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.
The lower court had ruled that the fact that Mr. Walton worked during the 12 months after his application but before SSA made a decision that he was disabled, did not make him ineligible for SSDI benefits. The Supreme Court held that since Mr. Walton was not disabled for 12 months, (since he returned to work at a Substantial Gainful Activity level in the 11th month), he did not meet the SSA definition of disability, so he was not entitled to SSDI and therefore not entitled to a Trial Work Period.
The importance of the Walton decision is that any SSDI claimant wishing to return to work at the SGA level must have a favorable decision on the issue of disability and eligibility for cash payments before going to work before the 13th month after their SSDI/SSI application. However, if an individual does work before the 13th month, subsidy, impairment related work expenses and unsuccessful work attempt can still be used to reduce SGA level earnings.