Social Security Disability is designed as a benefit program for those suffering from severe and/or life threatening medical conditions that result in them being no longer able to work. The statutory definition of what disabled means for purposes of this program leave little doubt as to the severity of the conditions:
"'Disability' under Social Security is based on your inability to work. We consider you disabled under Social Security rules if:
You cannot do work that you did before;
We decide that you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s); and
Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death."
Note that last part, "at least one year or result in death." These are very severe medical conditions, and this is demonstrated by the many who apply and receive SSD, but who do not live very long after they do obtain benefits. And this definition is one reason more than 60 percent of applicants are denied benefits.
So it does not seem all that surprising that few SSD beneficiaries ever return to work. The program was not called "Social Security Rehabilitation." Yet politicians always seem to believe there are a great number of SSD beneficiaries who could return to work if only the Social Security Administration would implement the proper policy and programs to enable them.
The latest budget fix that will enable SSD to operate without cuts until 2022 requires SSA to create more demonstration projects to find ways to return SSD beneficiaries to work. The results are likely to be the same as most prior projects.
Those projects show what while some beneficiaries may be able to return to work, most do not. These endeavors become "boutique projects" that benefit a few, but they are unlikely to ever substantially reduce the SSD rolls, which is the real goal of most politicians.
In addition, given the small numbers of workers who permanently return to work, the cost of these programs may not even pay for their implementation.
Source: cbpp.org, " Disability Beneficiaries Likely to Produce Limited Results," Kathleen Romig, February 11, 2016