Can I Get Disability Backpay From the Date of My First Social Security Application?

It's not easy to get Social Security to use the date of a prior application to calculate your backpay.

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Using a prior application date can significantly increase the amount of back pay you receive from Social Security if you are awarded disability benefits. Back pay is calculated going back to the date of your disability application or your disability onset date (or somewhere in between), depending on the type of benefits you are awarded.

If you have applied to Social Security multiple times, Social Security might use a prior application date to establish how much backpay you'll receive. In order to use a previous application, it must be reopened. However, there are strict rules on when Social Security may reopen a prior application.

When Will Social Security Reopen a Prior Application?

Once Disability Determination Services (DDS) has made its initial determination, Social Security may generally reopen previous applications that are less than a year old for any reason if the determination or decision was incorrect when it was made, and Social Security's time limits and conditions are met.

Keep in mind, however, that even if you request that your claim be reopened within the 12-month time frame, Social Security is not required to reopen the claim. Also, if your prior application is older than a year, it can be very difficult to get it reopened. You can learn more about when the SSA will, and will not, reopen an earlier application by reading our article on reopening prior Social Security disability claims.

What Is a Protective Filing Date?

A protective filing date (PFD) is a date prior to a disability application being submitted that Social Security can use to calculate back payments or, for Social Security disability (SSDI) recipients only, eligibility for benefits. If you had a protective filing date for a prior application, and Social Security reopens the prior claim, the PFD could potentially be used to calculate your backpay.

PFDs are established differently for SSDI and SSI. For SSDI, a protective filing date (PFD) is established when an applicant makes a written statement to Social Security that he or she intends to file for Social Security disability income (SSDI). A PFD for SSDI can be up to six months before the actual filing date.

A PFD for an SSI applicant is established when the individual first calls Social Security or visits a Social Security field office to ask about applying for benefits. Even if the person applies for disability several months later, Social Security will use the initial contact date as the PFD. A PFD for SSI can be up to two months before the actual filing date.

Using your PFD instead of the application date can result in a higher backpay amount. For more information, see our article on protective filing dates.

When Will Social Security Consider Using My Prior Application Date?

If you have a previous claim for disability that Social Security agrees to reopen and revise, the agency will look back to the date of your first application to determine your eligibility for back payments -- if your second application uses an onset date of disability that's in the same time period as the previous claim.

But if you can't meet this requirement, Social Security will also consider using your prior application date under one of the following circumstances.

  • The disability criteria have changed since the prior application and more than 12 months have passed since the date of the prior determination.
  • There is new and material evidence that establishes that the disability existed during the time frame of a previously denied claim and more than four years have past since the date of the prior determination, OR
  • The prior determination was because you didn't provide Social Security with enough medical evidence to support the claim.

If you cannot meet one of the above requirements, Social Security will not be able to reconsider the time period of the prior claim but can only look at the time period after the initial determination or decision.

How Is Backpay Calculated?

How far back disability back payments are calculated depends on the type of disability you receive.

SSDI. For SSDI recipients, eligibility for benefits can begin no more than 12 months prior to the date Social Security determined that the recipient became disabled (called the established onset date, or EOD). However, there is a five-month waiting period from the date of the EOD before benefits can actually begin. This means that to receive the maximum back payment amount, the SSA must find that you have an EOD 17 months prior to your application date or your protective filing date (this represents the five-month waiting period + 12 months of retroactive eligibility). For more information, see our article on the five-month waiting period.

SSI. SSI recipients can receive payments back to the month following their application date or their PFD as long as the SSA determines that they were disabled on the application date or PFD.

In either case, however, benefits cannot be paid for any time prior to the onset date of disability. For more information, see our article on how back payments are calculated.

Contact an Attorney for Help

It can be difficult, but well worth it, to convince Social Security that you meet Social Security's requirements for reopening an earlier claim. But doing so successfully almost always requires the help of an experienced disability attorney. To see if reopening a prior claim could help you get more backpay, contact a disability attorney.

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