Established Onset Date: How Social Security Disability Decides When A Disability Starts

Question: I had a car accident last year. Since then I’ve been decreasing the hours I’ve worked as I am able to do less and less due to my constant neck and back pain. I’m now working just fifteen (15) hours a month and have applied for disability.  As stated above, my neck and back disability have affected my earned income for months. How does Social Security disability decide when my disability should start?

Answer:  The date when your disability started is called your onset date. The date that the Social Security Administration (SSA) decides that you first became disabled its rules because you are unable to perform substantial gainful work is called your “established onset date” (EOD).

How the SSA Decides Your Onset Date

In your application for disability benefits, you are asked when your disability began. The date you enter on your application for benefits is your “alleged onset date”, or AOD for short. After evaluating the evidence in your claim, Social Security may accept this date as the date your disability began, or it might give you a later onset date. Once the SSA settles on a date that it considers when your disability began, it sets your “established onset date”, or EOD for short. Social Security considers the following in determining your EOD: your AOD, when you stopped working at the substantial gainful level (or when you reduced your work hours), your medical records, and your doctor’s opinions as to when your disability began.

Medical versus Financial Eligibility

The onset dates discussed above relate to medical onset dates. You also have meet the non-medical requirements to qualify for SSI or SSDI, and the dates you qualify for benefits based on these non-medical grounds may be different than your medical onset date. For example, you may have had too much income or too many assets for a couple months to qualify for SSI.

When Do Your Disability Payments Begin?

If you are approved for SSI disability benefits, your monthly benefits will start with the first of the month following your established onset date. If you are approved for Social Security disability, you have a five-month waiting period from your EOD before benefits begin.

Either way, your disability claim will probably be approved long after the onset date of your disability.  Therefore, you will likely be owed some monthly back payments for the time period while you were waiting for a decision. In an SSI claim, you can potentially be paid monthly benefits for each month you were disabled since your EOD. But how far back you will actually receive your benefits depends on: (a) when you applied for disability benefits and (b) whether you were approved for SSDI or SSI (or both).

Learn more about how your EOD, along with your application date, affects your disability backpay benefits.