I am disabled from a car accident, but I expect to return to work. Should I file for Social Security Disability benefits for a short-term disability?

Get help deciding whether to file for Social Security disability benefits when you are off work because of an accident but expect to return to work.

Social Security Application for a Short-Term Disability

Whether or not you should file for Social Security Disability after being injured in an automobile accident depends on whether you meet Social Security’s definition of disability and on how long you expect to be disabled, long or short term.

How Social Security Defines Disability

Social Security defines disability for adults as “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to any medically determinable physical or mental impairment or impairments which can be expected to result in death, or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.”

In part, this means that you must be disabled not only from the job you were performing at the time of the accident, but also from other occupations you have performed in the past and from any other occupations you could reasonably perform. 

Permanent Disability Not Required

Social Security doesn’t require permanent disability, but it does require you to be disabled for a period of not less than twelve months. This does not mean that you have to be off work completely for twelve months. Sometimes, people with short term injuries have to return to work in stages, starting with a few hours a week. If you return to work sooner than twelve months after the accident, but your work is part time and you are earning below Social Security’s substantial earnings level, then the months during which you are working may count towards the required twelve months.

Consult with Your Doctor

It can be helpful to talk to your doctor about when he thinks you may return to work. When asking his opinion, be sure to describe in detail how much of the day you have to stand and walk, how much weight you have to lift, how often you lift it, how often you have to bend or stoop. If you injured your arm, neck, or upper back, let him know how much of the day you have to use your arms, including time on a computer. If your job is performed seated, you will also want to describe how long at a time you are required to sit and whether or not you can get up or change positions from time to time. If you have had a head injury or are in substantial pain, describe the cognitive requirements of your work.

Sharing this information about your work duties will help your doctor give you an informed opinion about when you may be able to return to work in your most recent job and whether you will need to start part-time. It will not tell you whether you are disabled from other occupations, but it is a good place to start. Also, when in doubt, discussing your work history and your medical condition with a Social Security attorney can result in helpful guidance.

Finally, keep in mind that if you don’t apply now, and then your injuries keep you disabled longer than you initially thought, you can file for Social Security disability as soon as it looks as if you will be disabled for twelve months.