Many people hesitate to file for Social Security Disability and related programs because they believe that they will never be able to work again once they begin receiving benefits. However, the Social Security Administration has several programs designed to give SSD recipients the freedom to work if their disability allows, without cutting off their benefits.
Under the SSA's work incentives program, SSD recipients may work for several months without losing their SSD eligibility or benefits. First, recipients will enter the trial work period, during which they will receive full SSD benefits regardless of their income. Months in which recipients earn over $720 through employment qualify for trial work period months. The trial period will end when a recipient has met that $720 threshold for nine months in a 60-month period.
After the trial work period ends, recipients will enter the extended period of eligibility. During this 36-month period, recipients may still receive full SSD benefits for any month during which they do not make "substantial earnings". For 2011, any monthly income over $1,000 is considered substantial.
Recipients will then begin the five-year expedited reinstatement period, which begins when SSD or SSI benefits are no longer paid. If recipients find themselves unable to continue working based on the disability that allowed them to initially qualify for SSD, their benefits will be automatically reinstated without requiring them to go through the SSD application process again.
Even if recipients no longer receive their SSD benefits, they will continue to receive free Medicare Part A coverage for 93 months following the initial trial work period. They may continue to receive that coverage after the 93-month period by paying a monthly premium.
Source: Social Security Administration, "Working While Disabled - How We Can Help"