Getting disability back pay

How does back pay for Social Security Disability work?

by Tim Moore, Disability Representative in North Carolina

How do you get disability back pay?

If you are awarded disability, you will receive a regular monthly benefit and, most likely, some amount of back pay which will be determined by your month of entitlement (when your disability began) and when you filed your claim.

You can be eligible to receive backpay in either the Social Security Disability or SSI program. You really just need to file your claim. Speaking as a former disability examiner, I usually advise people to do this at a local Social Security office. Your disability interview can be done over the phone with a local office, or it can be done in person at a local office.

How much disability back pay do you get?

The amount of back pay that you get depends on three things: when you filed your disability claim, when your disability began (onset date), and how long it takes to get approved. Back pay is simply what Social Security owes you by the time you finally get your benefits. Unfortunately for most people, claims usually take a long time.

It is not unusual for a claim to take over a year. And if a disability hearing is needed, it can take over two to three years. Fortunately, for those who receive a disability award, there may be substantial back pay. Amounts in the tens of thousands of dollars are not unusual.

Does SSI or SSD pay more back pay?

Either program can pay significant back pay. It depends on how long your claim takes. Whether the claim is for SSD (Social Security Disability) or SSI makes no difference since they are handled exactly the same way. SSD, however, has a waiting period, while SSI does not have a waiting period.

What do we mean by waiting period? Think of it as an elimination period. Social Security Disability has a five-month waiting period, meaning that if you get approved the Social Security admininistration will not pay you for the first five months that you were considered disabled. This, of course, is why it is important to prove that your disability began as far back as possible and this is why your medical records are so important. This is a big part of what a disability attorney focuses on when they handle your case.

How disability back pay works can be confusing, but if you apply for disability and get awarded, you will most likley get back pay. Ironically, the only times a person will not get back pay, or get very little back pay, is when they apply after first becoming disabled and are immediately approved. This does not happen often.

How do I get the most disability back pay?

You will want to do two things. First, you (or your disability lawyer or representative) will want to make sure Social Security has your medical records going back going back to at least the time you filed your application. You should provide Social Security with the earliest records possible. Two, you (or your lawyer or representative) will want to prove that you met the definition of disability as far back as possible.

This means reviewing your medical records, but it also means reviewing your work history since Social Security will try to determine what kind of work, if any, you can still do. Work includes your past work, but also “other work” you might possibly do based on your age, skills, and education. A disability attorney will make the argument that you do not have the ability to do your past work, or other work.

Can I get extra disability back pay?

You can’t get “extra” back pay, but if your disability claim is for SSD (not SSI), you can potentially get retroactive disability benefits. What does this mean? For SSD, if you can prove that your disability existed before the time you filed the claim, you can get up to 12 months of retroactive benefits. This, of course, depends on your medical records proving you were disabled this far back. Note: Retroactive benefits are not available for SSI.

Tips for getting as much disability back pay as possible

1. The amount of back pay that you receive will depend on when you file your disability application. For this reason, if you are procrastinating about filing, stop procrastinating and get your claim filed. The sooner you file, the sooner you can get your monthly benefits and back pay.

2. How far back your disability began (based on the evidence) will have an effect on how much back pay you can receive. For this reason, supply full and complete information about your medical records, including older medical records as well as current medical records. Also, supply detailed information about your work history. If you have a disability representative or an attorney, this individual will try to argue that you either meet a disability listing, or qualify for disability through a medical vocational allowance, which is a way of saying that you cannot go back to your past work and cannot switch to some form of other work.

3. Your back pay is affected by when you applied for SSD or SSI. But it is really determined by what is known as your onset date (when you became disabled), which is based on your medical records. The onset date of disability can be argued by your social security attorney at a hearing before an administative law judge.

Note: If you have to go to a hearing, do not do this by yourself. Hearings take a long time to get to (often, it takes more than a year to get a hearing date after a request for hearing has been made) and you do not want to waste this opportunity to win your case. If you have a hearing, make sure you have a lawyer.

Now, let’s review what we’ve gone over with regard to Social Security Disability and SSI back pay.

Things to keep in mind about disability back pay

1. If you apply for Social Security Disability or SSI and get approved, you will most likely get back pay;

2. The longer your case goes on (most claims will involve not just an application, but also appeals), the more back pay you will probably be owed;

3. There are no limits on how much back pay you may be owed since this is based on, essentially, when you filed, when your disability is considered to have begun, and how long it takes to get you approved.

4. Proving how far back your disability began, which affects your back pay amount, will be based on a good understanding of what your medical records and work history have to say.