You find out that you're approved for Social Security disability benefits when you get a disability award letter in the mail from the Social Security Administration (SSA).
If you get approved at the initial application stage, you'll actually receive the award notice from the office of Disability Determination Services (DDS), the state agency that decides Social Security disability cases. If you get approved after an appeal hearing, the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO) will send you a notice of decision.
The award letter, officially called a "Notice of Award," will explain in detail the date that Social Security decided your disability began (your "disability onset date") and the beginning and ending dates of your five-month waiting period, along with how your past-due benefits, or "back pay," was calculated from these dates.
Social Security award letters generally also answer most of the benefit payment questions that disability applicants have, such as:
Your award letter will also note if you'll receive your back payments in installments (SSI only).
Social Security will send a copy of the award letter to your legal representative, if you hired one.
If you want a copy of your original Notice of Award, you can call Social Security at 800-772-1213 (from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm). But in most instances, a "benefit verification letter" is what you need. You can download a benefit verification letter from www.ssa.gov if you need proof that you're receiving benefits. A benefit verification letter will include the amount of income you receive every month and the date that you receive the payment every month.
Typically, claimants can expect to receive Social Security disability award letters within one to two months from the date they're approved, but in many instances, the wait may be significantly shorter, or longer. The timing of award letters depends on what stage of the process you're at—initial application or appeal. Read our article on how long it takes to get an award letter for more information.
Updated February 9, 2022