Social Security Disability: Closed Periods vs. Open Disability Awards

In Social Security disability cases, most favorable decisions of disability are for ongoing payment of benefits. However, there can also be awards of closed periods of disability. In an “open” award of disability, the judge identifies the onset date of the disability and benefits will be paid indefinitely as long as the disability continues. “Closed” periods of disability are at least 12 months in duration and are where the judge finds in a single decision that the claimant was disabled for a certain period of time but has since medically improved to such extent that re-employment is possible. In closed period cases, the judge will be comparing the medical evidence used to determine the claimant is disabled with the medical evidence existing at the time of possible medical improvement.

In the case of Attmore v. Colvin, 827 F.3d 872 (9th Cir. 2016), the Social Security judge made extensive findings that the claimant was severely bipolar and disabled from 4/15/2007 through 3/23/2009, describing in detail the claimant’s symptoms and examples of an inability to work. However, the judge went on to find the claimant to have shown signs of improvement as of 3/24/2009 and only awarded the closed period of disability benefits. In other words, the claimant was found to have been disabled for only the time period of 4/15/2007 to 3/23/2009 and then able to return to work as of 3/24/2009.

Ms. Attmore disagreed with the finding of improvement and appealed her case to federal court. While certain evidence of record when taken in isolation did support improvement, the federal court judge reviewed the case and found the judge to have incorrectly focused on temporary periods of improvement that were not representative of the continuing severity of symptoms. When all of the evidence was viewed as a whole, there was very little support for sustained improvement. The federal court reversed the closed period and remanded the case back for an open award of benefits.

If you or a loved one are disabled and have been denied Social Security disability benefits, call the experienced disability attorneys at Syfrett, Dykes & Furr, (850) 795-4979.

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