If you appealed a denial of Social Security disability or SSI benefits and had a hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ), the ALJ will issue a decision on your disability claim several weeks or months after the hearing. (For more information, see our article on the timing of hearing decisions.)
If the judge's decision is an approval, the claimant receives two letters:
The Notice of Decision letter may be fully favorable or partially favorable. In either case, a favorable decision means you were approved for some disability benefits. The difference has to do with the disability onset date (when the judge decided that the disability began, referred to as the "date of onset"). A partially favorable decision is when you are awarded benefits but the judge decided you became disabled later than you had stated in your application.
The Notice of Award (also called the award letter) sent from the Social Security office discusses benefit amounts: how much you will receive in monthly benefits, how much you are owed in back pay benefits, and when those benefits will begin. (But whenever Social Security tells you your benefits will begin, take this with a grain of salt. SSA forecasts are not always accurate).
Learn more about the Social Security award letter.
The date of onset is important in Social Security disability cases since it determines how much in past due benefits, or "back pay," that a disability claimant will receive. (The date the disability began is less important in an SSI case, since SSI benefits can be awarded only going back to the month after the application date.)
The date you state on your disability application that you became unable to work is your "alleged onset date," or AOD. The date the SSA finds you became eligible to receive disability benefits is called the "established onset date" (EOD).
Depending on the date of onset, a person could receive several hundred dollars in SSDI back pay or several thousand. Because there can be so much money at stake, the issue of the onset date is a good reason to have legal representation. A knowledgeable and experienced disability lawyer or disability claimant's representative knows how to argue for the most favorable onset date possible based on the medical evidence. (More than half of all cases heard by administrative law judges are approved, and many disability representatives win monthly benefits and backpay for 80-90% of their claimants.)
Learn more about calculating the amount of backpay you may receive.
If your disability case is denied at the hearing level, the letter you'll receive from the ALJ will be titled "Notice of Decision--Unfavorable."
You can appeal Social Security Disability claims that are denied by ALJs to the Appeals Council, a branch of the SSA that reviews all denials made by ALJs. Such appeals are often an uphill battle, though, since percentage-wise, few ALJ denials are overturned.
Learn more about requesting an Appeal Council review.