When You Apply For Disability Do You Get Back Pay For the Five Month Waiting Period?

Unfortunately, you will never receive back pay disability benefits for the five month waiting period.

According to the Social Security Act, every person who is insured for disability benefits, not full retirement age, who has filed an application for Social disability and been found disabled will be entitled to disability benefits for each month beginning the first month following the five month waiting period.


1. What is the maximum back pay you can get for Social Security Disability?
2. When can I expect my first disability check and my back pay check?

Initially, the Social Security Act required a six-month waiting period prior to receiving benefits. However the waiting period was reduced to five calendar months in 1972.

Why does the waiting period exist? The waiting period was created to make sure that individuals applying for disability had long term severe impairments rather than temporary disabling conditions. Congress determined that a waiting period would allow the claimant to recover, or at least show signs of recovery, if recovery was actually possible.

Since the worker would most likely be without income during the waiting period, it would make it unprofitable for a worker not to work if they really were able to work. In this fashion, Social Security could ensure that disability benefits were only paid out to individuals who had impairments that precluded all substantial work activity.

However...having said all this, I have personally always believed that the waiting period should be abolished.

Despite the goals of the federal government that resulted in the creation of the waiting period, the 5 month waiting often works to do little more than deprive Social Security Disability beneficiaries of the first five months of benefits to which they should be entitled. And it handily reduces costs. Even in 1955, Congress found that the waiting period reduced the cost of Social Security by 10 percent.

By contrast, SSI disability beneficiaries have no 5 month waiting period; in fact, after being approved they are eligible to receive disability benefits from the month they file for disability.

That SSI disability applicants are able to receive disability benefits beginning the first month they file an application (provided that they are found medically disabled as of that month)... while individuals who are insured for Social Security Disability cannot receive benefits for their first five months of eligibility does seem unfair.

And compounding this inequity is the fact that title 2 Social Security Disability beneficiaries are not eligible for Medicare benefits until 24 months after the first month they are eligible to receive a disability benefit, while SSI disability recipients are entitled to Medicaid immediately.

Many, of course, have argued that neither program should be subject to any waiting period and that both the five month payment waiting period and the 24 month medicare waiting period should be abolished. However, since the five month waiting period and the twenty-four month waiting period save the government money, it is unlikely that either of these waiting periods will be repealed anytime soon.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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