If you submit multiple applications before your claim for disability benefits is eventually approved, the Social Security Administration (SSA) might use a prior application date to determine how much back pay you'll receive.
Using a prior application date can significantly increase the amount of back due benefits you're awarded. But before the SSA will use a date from an earlier application, the agency must reopen your previous claim.
Social Security doesn't reopen prior applications on its own. If you want to reopen an old claim in order to get more back pay, you'll need to ask the agency when you file a new claim.
Whether the SSA will reopen your prior application depends on the following factors:
Social Security can reopen a prior application for SSDI or SSI for any reason within 12 months of a final decision by Disability Determination Services or an Administrative Law Judge. Reopening is at the agency's discretion, and they can deny your request.
Social Security can reopen claims older than 12 months if the agency finds there is "good cause" to do so. Good cause exists when:
The maximum amount of time that Social Security can go back to reopen a prior application due to good cause depends on the type of disability benefit the application was for:
Social Security can reopen an SSDI or SSI claim at any time if the agency suspects that the decision was the result of fraud or misrepresentation (for example, your doctor falsified records).
For more information, see our article on reopening a Social Security disability claim.
If Social Security agrees to reopen your previous application and you're ultimately awarded disability benefits, the agency will calculate your back pay based on the protective filing date of your prior claim.
The protective filing date is the date that you first let the SSA know that you intended to file for benefits. For example, if you start your disability application online on January 1, 2023 but you complete and submit it on February 15, 2023, your protective filing date will be January 1, 2023.
Protective filing dates work slightly differently depending on whether you file for SSDI or SSI.
The past due amounts can become quite substantial if you're successful in reopening your prior application, as they can reflect years of back pay.
Social Security calculates your back payments based on the type of disability benefit you receive. Generally, your back pay is the monthly amount of your benefit times the number of months the agency determines that you've been disabled.
In either case, the SSA can't pay you benefits from before you became disabled. For more information, see our articles on Social Security disability back pay and how disability back payments are calculated.
Convincing Social Security that you meet the agency's requirements for reopening an earlier claim can be difficult, but well worth the effort. Doing so successfully almost always requires the help of an experienced disability attorney or representative.
Updated February 3, 2023