Disability claimants who have been approved to receive Social Security disability insurance benefits (also known as SSDI, SSD, and Title II disability benefits) are subject to a five-month waiting period before Social Security owes the claimant disability benefits. This means that the Social Security Administration (SSA) will withhold five months of an approved claimant's benefits before starting monthly payments (or, more likely, before calculating back payments owed to the claimant, since it takes so long to get a disability approval).
Exceptions to the Waiting Period
SSI. SSI claimants who have been approved to receive disability benefits are not subject to the five-month waiting period. SSI claimants will be eligible for their first payment on the first of the month after they apply for disability (but they will likely receive the first few months' payments in SSI back payments, since the SSA takes at least a few months to grant disability benefits).
Reinstatement. If you were approved for SSDI benefits, went back to work, stopped receiving benefits, and then become disabled again, you will not have to wait five months to receive benefits, as long as no more than five years has passed between your first onset date of disability and the second. This is called expedited reinstatement.
Dependent benefits. If you are applying for benefits as the child of a disabled worker, your application is not subject to any waiting period. For more information, see our section on SSDI dependent benefits.
When the Waiting Period Starts
The five-month waiting period starts on the claimant's established onset date (EOD) of disability. (This is the date that the SSA says the claimant became disabled.) Thus the date of entitlement to Social Security benefits (when the claimant starts to be owed a monthly payment) doesn't start until five months after the EOD.
How the Waiting Period Relates to the Application Date
When is the date of entitlement in relation to the application date? The date of entitlement can be no more than 12 months before the application date, which means that the established onset date can be no more than 17 months before the application date. Of course, the EOD is only set that far back when the SSA believes you have been disabled for 17 months before the application date, or longer. For some claimants, the SSA actually sets the EOD after the application date.
EXAMPLE: Chris applies for disability for MS and is denied because the claims examiner doesn't find that her MS is severe enough (she doesn't have seerely limiting motor, visual, or mental difficulties). Chris appeals the decision and it takes a year to get an ALJ hearing. During this time her condition deteriorates, and at the hearing the ALJ finds that she became medically eligible for disability six months after her application date (this is both her medical onset date and her established onset date). Chris's SSDI payments start five months after her EOD. But since that date was months after her hearing, she doesn't have to wait to get benefits after the approval.
How a Protective Filing Date Affects the Waiting Period
If you have a protective filing date (the date you advised Social Security you'd be applying for disability benefits), it becomes like your application date for the purposes of the 17-month time limit discussed above. The date of entitlement to benefits can be 12 months before your protective filing date, which means that your established onset date disability can be 17 months before the protective filing date.
In other words, you can be paid disability benefits for 12 months before your protective date, if Social Security finds you were disabled five months before that date. For information on the details of when contacting Social Security counts as a protective filing date, see our article on getting a protective filing date for Social Security.
As you can see, most of the time the claimant doesn't actually have to wait five months after a decision is made to get benefits, since the five-month waiting period is used up while waiting for a disability decision. For more information on the timing of the waiting period, the onset date of disability, and how these dates affects backpay, see our article on the EOD and backpay.