How far back can SS back pay be paid?

Back pay is actually a more complex issue than many people would think, due to a variety of accompanying issues, including alleged onset (when you stated on your disability application that you became disabled), established onset (your medical onset date of disability, based on a review of the medical evidence that was gathered in order to evaluate your claim), the five month waiting period, and your date of application.

Essentially, back pay works like this:

For SSI, you can be paid back to the date of your disability application. If you have had to file appeals (most people do), then, chances are, by the time you get approved by a disability judge, about 2-3 years will have passed from the time you filed your initial disability claim. This means, of course, that the social security administration will owe you a substantial amount in back pay.

For Social Security Disability, you can receive back pay back to the time of your disability application and, potentially, even 12 months prior to your original filing date. This is known as retroactive benefits. Retroactive benefits can be won if the medical record proves that your condition existed and was disabling (according to the social security definition of disability) at least twelve months prior to your application.

Is there a maximum amount of SS back pay that you can receive? No, there is no "cap". You simply receive the amount of back pay that the social security administration determines that you are owed, based on A) when you filed, B) when you were approved for disability, and C) when your disability is determined to have begun (i.e. your medical onset, which is determined by what your medical records have to say about your condition).

Note: Claimants who are approved for Social Security Disability (not SSI disability) will be subject to the five month waiting period, meaning that SSA will not pay them the benefits they otherwise would have received in their first five months of medical eligibility. Also, claimants who are approved for either SSD or SSI and have prior applications may potentially have their earlier applications reopened by a judge at a hearing, if the medical record so warrants. When this happens, of course, a claimant's back pay may rise substantially.

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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