Often when filling out an application for Social Security Disability benefits, people are unsure what to write down when asked to indicate the date they became disabled. This can be challenging especially when someone has suffered from a health condition for a long time, including while the person was still working. To understand what date of disability, referred to by Social Security as the “alleged onset date,” to select, it is helpful to have a good overall understanding of the Social Security Disability program and its associated rules.
What is the Social Security Disability program?
The Social Security Administration administers two programs which provide benefits based on disability.
- The Social Security Disability program (SSDI) provides payment for disability benefits for people who have worked and paid taxes on their income for at least five of the past ten years. SSDI is considered to be an insurance program, and people who qualify for SSDI are considered to be insured based upon their contributions to the Social Security trust fund through Social Security taxes they have paid on their earnings.
- Supplemental Security Income, or SSI. This is a program which provides payments to people who are considered disabled and have limited income and resources. This income limit is very strict and may also consider the income of the person’s spouse or others in the household. Other sources of income, such as food stamps, may reduce the monthly amount that one is provided if they are found to be disabled and entitled to benefits.
How does Social Security define disability?
The Social Security Act, which is the law which establishes and addresses the Social Security Disability program, defines disability in adults as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to any medically determinable impairment or mental impairment which lasts or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least six months or result in death.
What is Social Security’s process for evaluating disability?
Social Security follows a five step process when evaluating a person’s eligibility for disability benefits, known as the “sequential evaluation process.”
First, Social Security will confirm that the person is no longer engaging in substantial gainful activity, which means they are not working more than Social Security’s allowed amount. This is determined by the amount of money a person is earning through work activity per month and not by the number of hours worked. The “substantial gainful activity” level is based on a person’s gross pay, not take home pay. This amount changes on an annual basis. In the year 2023, a person can earn up to $1450 per month in gross earnings and remain eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits.
Second, the Social Security Administration will determine whether the person has a severe impairment. A severe medically determinable impairment is determined based on the medical evidence within the file.
Medical evidence is comprised of any medical records documenting treatment, examination findings, diagnostic testing such as imaging reports and laboratory testing, operative reports, or other hospitalization records.
Based on those medical records, the Social Security Administration will determine whether the person qualifies under one of Social Security’s listings of impairments. If not, Social Security will evaluate the person’s residual functional capacity.
Residual functional capacity is the person’s ability in light of his or her impairments to do certain activities that may be required in a work setting. These activities include standing, sitting, lifting, walking, reaching, crawling, kneeling, stooping, and using the hands for fine and gross manipulation. If the person has mental conditions, the residual functional capacity will include the ability to perform certain mental tasks such as maintaining attention and concentration, understanding and remembering simple and detailed instructions, and interacting with other people such as coworkers, supervisors, and the public.
After the residual functional capacity is assessed, Social Security will determine in light of these limitations whether the person is able to perform his or her past work. If he or she is unable to perform the past work, Social Security will determine whether there is other work that the person can perform with the limitations Social Security found.
If the case is evaluated at a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge, there may be a vocational expert present who may assess the availability of other jobs in the national economy. If the person cannot perform any other work, he or she will be found disabled.
In light of this information, how do I select an Alleged Onset Date?
If you have applied for SSDI benefits, you will have to prove to Social Security that you became disabled before your “date last insured” expired, if it has in fact expired. You can find out your date of last insured from the Social Security website or by calling Social Security. Once you obtain that date, you will need to pick a date prior to that to prove that you were still insured when you developed your condition.
You also cannot be engaged in substantial gainful activity after that date. Therefore, you need to pick a date after you stopped working, or after you have reduced your work activity to minimal earnings. The definition of disabled indicates the inability to perform normal work activity due to the condition, so even if your condition has lasted for years, it needs to have worsened to a point that you are no longer able to work.
Last, you must have medical records to support that date. If you were experiencing symptoms but not receiving treatment, you would not pick the date you first developed symptoms. Rather, you would choose the date when you began getting treatment for the condition or were diagnosed with it. Some people will select the date of a serious medical event such as a stroke, accident, or major surgery. Others with an ongoing condition will select the date that they stopped working due to their condition worsening.
Selecting an alleged onset date that will result in a successful claim often is best determined by a professional. The legal team at LaBovick Law Group is here to help. Give us a call at (561) 625-8400 – our team is ready to fight for you to get the benefits you need!