Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits are subject to a five-month waiting period. This means that Social Security will not pay you for the first five months you are disabled, but will start paying benefits for the sixth full month after you are disabled. (There is no five-month waiting period for SSI benefits.)
This waiting period does not mean that you should wait to apply for benefits. You should start the application process as soon as you become disabled. Many people find that their initial application and request for reconsideration are denied, which means that you may be waiting a year or more before you get a hearing before an administrative law judge.
For many people, the five-month waiting period becomes important in calculating your back payments or retroactive payments once you are approved. Social Security will determine your established onset date (EOD), which is the date your disability began, and may be different from your alleged onset date (AOD), or the date you initially claimed your disability began. Social Security will begin your payments in the sixth full month after your EOD, so when you are calculating how many months of back payments and retroactive payments you will get, you will usually need to subtract 5 from the total. However, Social Security will not pay you retroactive benefits for more than one year before you became disabled anyway, so that means that if a judge finds that your onset date is 17 or more months before your application date, then you can receive the full 12 months of retroactive payments. Here are a couple of examples:
Before applying the five-month waiting period, this person would be eligible for 16 months of back payments (for months between the application date and the award date), plus 2 months of retroactive payments (for months between the established onset date and the application date), for a total of 18 months. However, 18 -5 = 13, so this person would only receive 13 months of back payments.
Before applying the five-month waiting period, this person would be eligible for 16 months of back payments (for months between the application date and the award date), plus 12 months of retroactive payments (the maximum amount of retroactive payments possible, even though there were 17 months between the established onset date and the application date), for a total of 28 months. The five-month waiting period is applied by subtracting 5 months from the 17 months between the established onset date and the application date. 17 – 5 =12, so the person would still receive 16 months of back payments and 12 months of retroactive payments, for a total of 28 months.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) has different rules. First, there is no five-month waiting period for SSI. But SSI also does not have retroactive payments. This means that if you are approved for SSI benefits, your back payments can go back to the date of your application, but not before.
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