When completing an application for Social Security Disability benefits, you will be required to tell Social Security the date which you became disabled, formally referred to as your alleged onset date. Many people have difficulty determining which date is the correct date to select, especially when they suffer from a chronic health condition that has gone on for several years. To better determine the best date to choose, it is necessary to first have an understanding of the Social Security Disability Insurance program and its process for approval.
Social Security Disability Insurance benefits are available to those individuals who have worked and paid taxes on their income and are unable to work or engage in normal work activity due to a medical condition. The medical condition must be a condition that lasts or is expected to last for at least one year or result in death. Social Security follows a five-step process to determine whether a person is eligible for disability insurance benefits. First, Social Security will confirm that you have not engaged in “substantial gainful activity” after your date of disability, or alleged onset date. Second, Social Security will confirm that you have a severe impairment. Social Security will then determine whether your impairment meets the criteria of one of the agency’s listings of impairments. If your condition meets the criteria of a listing, you will be found disabled. If not, Social Security will proceed to determine your residual functional capacity. This is an assessment of your physical capabilities throughout a workday (such as the number of hours you can stand, walk, or sit; or the amount of weight that you can lift) as well as any mental limitations you may have (such as limitations in your ability to interact with the public or follow complex instructions). After Social Security determines your residual functional capacity, it will determine whether you are able to perform your past work with the restrictions that you have. If you are unable to return to your past work, Social Security will determine whether there are other jobs that you can perform.
Choosing the correct alleged onset date is vital to ensure that you are going to pass step one of Social Security’s evaluation process. To be eligible for approval, you must not have earnings after your alleged onset date which exceed substantial gainful activity levels. “Substantial gainful activity” is a monthly gross amount of earnings from work activity. The amount is set by the Social Security Administration and adjusted on an annual basis. In 2022, the maximum amount that one may earn per month and maintain eligibility for disability benefits is $1350. Note that these are GROSS earnings, not net earnings – therefore, it is extremely important to check your pay stubs and confirm that your earnings before taxes and other deductions are applied do not exceed this amount. Therefore, if you are still working but have reduced your work activity, you may choose to select the date when you reduced your work as your alleged onset date. Most people who are applying for Social Security Disability are no longer working and may opt to choose the date when they stopped working. However, it is important to remember that you must establish with Social Security that the reason you stopped working or reduced your hours was due to your medical conditions and not due to other factors such as lack of available jobs.
Another factor to keep in mind when choosing your alleged onset date is that the date when you became disabled must occur prior to your date last insured, or DLI. Your date last insured is calculated based on your quarters of coverage earned through your work credits. You must establish that you became disabled before your last quarter of coverage expired. For example, if your date last insured is December 31, 2020, you must have become disabled before that date. If you became disabled after that date, you may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits; however, this is a means-tested program and you must meet income and asset eligibility requirements.
Further, your alleged onset date must be established with medical records. In other words, there must be medical evidence that you were disabled on or around the date that you enter on your application. If you were in an accident or suffered a major medical event such as a stroke or surgery, you may wish to select the date of the accident or incident as your alleged onset date. You may also choose to select the date you were diagnosed with a condition via diagnostic testing such as an MRI or other testing results. It is also important to remember that it is important to be receiving ongoing treatment to prove that your impairment is severe. Therefore, if your alleged onset date is supported by only a single treatment record, and you have not received much treatment since then, your case will be more difficult to support.
Finally, there are sometimes strategic reasons to select a later alleged onset date if you are age 50 or older. If you were between ages 50 and 54 on your alleged onset date, and Social Security finds that you are only capable of doing sedentary work, the agency will have to determine whether you are able to transfer your work skills to a sedentary position. If you were age 55 and up, and Social Security finds that you are only able to perform light work (standing and walking 6 of 8 hours a day and frequently lifting 10 lbs.), the agency will again be required to determine if your skills transfer to a light work level.
When selecting your alleged onset date, it is best to consult with an experienced Social Security Disability attorney. The team at LaBovick Law Group can evaluate your case and suggest the date that will place you in the best position for success with your claim. Give us a call at (561) 625-8400. We can provide a free case evaluation and get your application started right away.