When you applied for disability, the Social Security Administration (SSA) asked you to provide the date when you became disabled. This is called your alleged onset date (AOD). If the SSA approves your claim, the agency will decide what it believes is the date your disability began, based on the medical evidence you provided to support your application. This is called your established onset date (EOD). Sometimes your EOD will be the same as your AOD, if the SSA agrees with the date you think you became disabled. Sometimes, however, your EOD will be after the date you claimed you became disabled.
If the SSA gives you an EOD that's different than the date you alleged on your application, it can dramatically impact the amount of money you can get in backpay (payments going back to your application date) or retroactive payments (payments for the time period before you applied for disability--available to SSDI recipients only).
SSI. People who get SSI benefits can get backpayments as far back as to the month after they filed for benefits (or to the month after their protective filing date) -- as long as the SSA decides that their EOD was before one of these dates.
SSDI. People who get SSDI can also get backpayments going back to their date of application (or their protective filing date). SSDI recipients can also get up to 12 months of retroactive benefits for the time they were disabled before they applied. For example, if you applied for SSDI on January 1, 2020, you could get retroactive benefits going back to January 1, 2019. However, there is a five-month waiting period for SSDI benefits, which begins on the EOD and ends five months later, during which time you're not entitled to any benefits. This means that to get the full 12 months of retroactive benefits, the SSA must determine that your EOD is at least 17 months before your application date (or before your protective filing date). (You can learn more by reading our article on the Five-Month Waiting Period for Social Security Disability.)
A protective filing date is a date before your application was officially submitted that the SSA can use to calculate your backpayments or your eligibility for SSDI. PFD for SSI is the date on which you either first call the SSA to apply or go to a field office to ask about applying. Your protective filing date for SSDI is when you make a written statement to the SSA saying that you are going to apply for benefits. (If you want to learn more, read our article What is a Protective Filing Date?)
Here are two examples of how a disability recipient's backpay can be affected by an EOD that is different from the AOD.
Kevin filed for SSI due to depression on April 1, 2019. Kevin alleged that he became disabled on February 1, 2017 (this was his AOD). Based on the medical evidence in his file, however, the SSA decided Kevin did not actually become disabled until August 1, 2019 (this was his EOD). Because he was an SSI recipient, Kevin was potentially eligible for backpayments from the month after the date he applied to the date he was approved (on July 1, 2020). This would be 14 months of backpay. However, because the SSA determined his EOD was not until August 1, 2019, Kevin received only 11 months of backpay (from August 1, 2019, to July 1, 2020.)
Jillian filed for SSDI due to rheumatoid arthritis on January 1, 2019, and on her application alleged that she became disabled on August 1, 2017 (her AOD). She was subsequently approved for benefits on May 1, 2020. However, the SSA concluded that Jillian didn't become disabled until January 1, 2018 (her EOD). Jillian received benefits from from five months after her EOD of January 1, 2018, to her application date of January 1, 2019. Had the SSA concluded that Jillian's EOD was the same as her AOD, she would have been entitled to another five months of benefits. (Technically, she received retroactive benefits from June 1, 2018 to her application date of January 1, 2019 and back payments from her application date to her approval date (January 1, 2019, to May 1, 2020).
If you appeal your EOD, you do run the risk of losing all of your benefits. This is because when you appeal any Social Security disability decision, your entire claim gets reviewed, not just your established onset date. This means that if the reviewer thinks the prior decision maker awarded benefits incorrectly, your award could be revoked.
In some cases, it won't matter if the SSA gave you an EOD different than your AOD, because your AOD was also less than 17 months prior to your application date. In this case, your retroactive payment amount wouldn't change, and you should not appeal the decision.
However, if there is a significant difference in the EOD and your AOD, then appealing the decision may be worth the risk. Make sure, though, that the additional evidence you provide to support your claim is solid. It's usually only worth it to appeal an EOD if the SSA has made a clear error or if you have new medical evidence regarding your EOD. We will talk more about this on the next page, good reasons to appeal an EOD. It's always a good idea to talk to a disability lawyer before appealing a partially favorable decision (a decision in which you won benefits, but not going back to your AOD).
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