What is an onset date for SSDI?

Your onset date is defined as the first day you are unable to work because of your disability.

What is an Alleged Onset Date?

The alleged onset date, or AOD, is the date you claim on your Social Security Disability application as you became unable to work because of your medical condition. 

The onset date may or may not be the same as the date your medical condition was diagnosed or your injury occurred.What is a Disability Onset Date?

A typical AOD is the date last worked.

However, depending on the circumstances and the medical support, the onset date could be after the date last worked.

Why is the date of onset important?

This onset date determines when you were first eligible to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and how far back your "back pay" will go.

  • SSDI benefits may be paid up to 12 months before the date you file your application.
  • Once approved, there is a five-month waiting period after the onset date of your disability during which you are not paid benefits. (For example, if you found as disabled starting on January 1, SSDI does start until your June payment.)

For SSDI,  Social Security Administration (SSA) can retroactively pay benefits as far back as 12 months before your application date if you were disabled before that date, again subject to the 5-month non-payment period. 

There is usually little to be gained from alleging an onset date of more than 17 months before your application since you are not eligible for social security disability benefits for that time period.  Here are some examples:

  • You apply on January 1, 2020 stating your onset date was January 1, 2019 and are approved with the AOD.  You are entitled to benefits starting June 1, 2019. Why?  Although SSA can pay you for one year prior to your application date, your five-month elimination period started on January 1, 2019 and ended on May 31, 2019.
  • You apply on January 1, 2020 stating your onset date was January 1, 2018 and are approved with the AOD.  You are entitled to benefits starting January 1, 2019.  Why?  SSA only pays for one year prior to your application date (or January 1, 2019) and your five-month elimination period started on January 1, 2018 and ended on May 31, 2018.  
  • You apply on January 1, 2020 stating your onset date was January 1, 2020 and are approved with the AOD.  You are entitled to benefits starting June 1, 2020.  Why? Your five-month elimination period started on January 1, 2020 and ended on May 31, 2020.

The exception to this is if your Date Last Insured (DLI) is more than 17 months before your application date.  You must select an alleged onset date that is BEFORE your date last insured to be eligible for disability payments. If you did not become disabled prior to your DLI, you are likely not eligible for SSDI benefits on your own record.

*Note: The information about Onset Date and DLI is for SSDI only.  For Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims, SSA can only pay from the date of application OR onset date, whichever is later.  

What happens if the ALJ wants to change my onset date?

Some times, a "partially favorable" decision is issued by SSA or the ALJ.  One potential reason for this partially favorable decision is because SSA or the ALJ agree you are disabled currently but do not agree with your AOD and instead believe you became disabled at a later date.  This can be referred to as an amended onset date.

The impact of such partially favorable decisions is often a person will receive future disability benefits, but the amount of lump sum back payments are reduced or eliminated.   

What is an Established Onset Date?

The date that Social Security determines that you became disabled and unable to work is called the established onset date.

To determine your established onset date, the Social Security Administration will look at your alleged onset date, your work history, and your medical evidence. SSA may agree with your AOD or may select its own onset date. 

In addition to affecting your lump sum back payment amount, the established onset date can also determine your eligibility for benefits.  You must be unable to work for 12 months to be eligible for disability benefits.  If you are expected to recover to the point of being able to work and the judge disagrees with your alleged onset date and moves it back, it could mean that there is no longer a full 12 month period where you are unable to work.  Therefore, you are not eligible for benefits at all.

How do I select my alleged onset date?

Choosing the correct onset date is very important to your chances of obtaining disability benefits and obtaining the maximum back payment you are entitled to receive.

Selecting a specific onset date is difficult since most likely your symptoms and impairments built up over time.  Unless you were injured in an accident, it's not likely that all of your issues began on the same date. 

You should pick a date that is supported by evidence in your medical records as well as your work history. If you are having difficulty, consulting with an experienced disability attorney can help.

Often you can tie the onset date to a certain event, either the day you last worked or a major date in your medical history like your date of diagnosis or a date when you were hospitalized.

Other things that can affect your onset date are incarceration, citizenship status, the last day worked, and receipt of or application for unemployment benefits.

Whatever date you choose, make sure the alleged onset date that you select can be supported by medical evidence from around that time period that shows impairments that affect your ability to work.

If you are unsure of what to put as your alleged date of onset on your Social Security Disability application, my office is happy to provide guidance. We've analyzed onset dates for hundreds of disability claims.  Give us a call at 985-240-9773.

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Loyd J. Bourgeois
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Disability, Personal Injury, and Divorce Attorney