Does Disability Amount Increase If Health Gets Worse?

Q: My wife has received Social Security disability for several years because of a progressive illness. Her health recently took a turn for the worse and we were wondering if she might receive a larger benefit amount because of this.

A: Declining health will not change her Social Security disability amount. Eligibility requirements for SSA disability include having the needed amount of work and meeting a strict definition of medical disability based on inability to work.

While details are in the disability section of the Social Security website, basics of the disability definition for Social Security are that a person cannot do the work previously done, cannot perform other work due to their medical condition and must have a disability that has lasted, or is expected to last, at least a full year. Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial or short-term impairments. 

Since your wife already meets this work related definition of disability, and because her current benefit amount is based on her past work history, becoming more disabled will not change her benefit amount.

Social Security administers the different, need based, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Worsening health will not change the SSI amount either but non-medical changes might. For example, changes in income, marital status or where a person lives can result in a changed SSI amount.

Even though her Social Security disability amount will not change because her health has worsened, your wife will soon receive a larger benefit amount due to the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for 2014. 

Including your wife, more than 57 million Social Security beneficiaries will receive the 1.5 percent COLA increase with benefits received in January 2014. Increased payments to more than 8 million Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries will begin on December 31, 2013.