If I Am Determined Disabled, How Far Back Will Social Security Pay Benefits?

How far back Social Security will pay SSDI or SSI disability benefits is determined by the date you filed your disability claim, i.e. when you applied for Social Security and/or SSI disability.

How much back pay you actually get, however, will depend on how far back you filed a disability claim, but also how long it took for you to actually win your disability case. Most individuals do not get approved for disability the first time they file. Most do not get a disability award on their first appeal as well (although, it should be said that by the time the first appeal has been finished, probably about 40 percent of individuals will have been approved). Obviously, the longer your case stays in the system, the more back pay will be owed to you by the time you are finally awarded benefits. This is why many claimants receive back pay in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Back Pay and Social Security Disability applicants

However, back to the question of how far back will Social Security pay benefits, there is another factor that affects how much back pay you can get other than simply A. When you filed and B. how long it took to be approved. That factor is known as retroactive disability benefits.

Social Security Disability applicants may be eligible for disability benefits for twelve months prior to the date of filing for disability. These retroactive benefits can result in much larger total back pay and can be paid provided the disabled individual has been disabled and unable to work at a substantial level for at least seventeen months prior to filing.

Why seventeen months? Ok, this is where things may begin to get mildly confusing, which is understandable because the SSD and SSI system is very confusing. Social Security has a five-month waiting period that applies to Social Security Disability claims for which they never pay disability benefits. Think of it as a five-month elimination period such as might be found on a private insurance policy. Because the five month waiting period takes five months of your benefits away, this means that to get your full 12 months of retroactive benefits added to your total back pay, you would need to prove that you became disabled according to the SSA definition of disability at least 17 months before you even filed for disability.

Note: retroactive benefits and the five month waiting period only apply to SSD, the Social Security Disability program. They are not part of the SSI disability program.

Back Pay and Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, applicants

How far back can a person filing for SSI get disability benefits? Since there are no retroactive benefits, SSI disability applicants are first entitled to monthly disability benefits for the month in which they filed for disability--provided, of course, that they meet the income and resource requirements of the SSI program and provided also that their medical evidence supports a "disability onset date" (the onset date is when the claimant became disabled) at least as far back as their date of their disability application, or SSI date of filing for disability.

Note: As stated, for SSI disability there is no five-month waiting period which effectively confiscates a Social Security Disability applicant's first five months of benefits; by the same token, though, there are no disability benefits payable for any time prior to the filing date of their disability application, i.e. there are no retroactive benefits in the SSI program.

Special Note: Please keep in mind (as was previously mentioned, SSD and SSI are notoriously confusing for many people) that "retroactive benefits" and "back pay" are not the same thing. Retroactive benefits are those that may be payable for the time before a person has even filed for disability...and they only pertain to the Social Security Disability (SSD) program.

Back pay pertains to both the SSI and Social Security Disability programs. Back pay, or past due benefits, are simply those benefits that are due to the claimant as a result of A) What date their disability is considered to have begun (as established by the medical records) and B) How long it has taken to process their disability claim.

A good example of "B" is a person who has had to take their Social Security case before a federal ALJ, administrative law judge and, thus, has had their claim in the system for three years or more; such a person would likely be owed a significant amount of back pay due to how long their case has been pending from the time after filing a claim.

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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