A favorable decision, in the context of Social Security disability claims, is an approval of disability benefits. More specifically, the term "favorable decision" refers to an approval granted by an administrative law judge (ALJ) after a disability appeal hearing.
If an ALJ approves you for benefits, you will receive a hearing decision letter a month or so following the hearing. In the letter, the judge who granted you the favorable ruling will explain both the reasons for the ruling and your established date of onset (EOD), which determines the date from which you are owed disability benefits.
In a fully favorable decision, a judge approves a disability claim and grants an established onset date that is in full agreement with the onset date "alleged" (claimed) by the applicant (this is called the alleged onset date, or AOD).
In a partially favorable decision, the applicant is granted disability benefits, but the judge sets the established date of onset (EOD) later than the date alleged by the applicant on the disability application (the AOD).
A partially favorable decision might also be an approval for a "closed period" of benefits. This happens when the ALJ determines that the applicant was disabled for a period of time, but is no longer disabled. (For more information, see our article on disability benefits for closed periods.)
When a judge sets an EOD later than the AOD that the applicant claimed (in a partially favorable decision), the total amount in past due back payments or retroactive benefits that the applicant might receive is often reduced. In other words, a judge could agree that you're disabled now, but might say that you've only been disabled for five months, rather than the year that you've been off work. That's why the decision is only partially favorable.
In many cases, the difference between the EOD and the AOD can amount to several thousand dollars in back payments, so it may be worth it to appeal a partially favorable decision.
The date of onset 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.)
In an SSDI case, some applicants can receive backpay going back to 12 months before the application date—if the judge agrees that the onset date was at least 17 months before the application date. Learn more about calculating the amount of backpay you could receive.
Depending on the date of onset, a person could receive several hundred dollars in SSDI back pay or several thousand. So when a judge issues a partially favorable decision and moves the onset date, an applicant can lose thousands of dollars.
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 knows how to argue for the most favorable onset date possible based on the medical evidence. Learn more about requesting a change in onset date.
A disability lawyer can also advise you on whether you should appeal a partially favorable decision—it doesn't always make sense. Learn more about the disadvantages of appealing a partially favorable decision.
Updated March 24, 2022