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What is My Disability Onset Date?

Your disability onset date is the date at which you became unable to work as a result of a disabling medical condition. Payments are not made retroactively but begin with the application date, provided all other eligibility conditions are met.

It is important for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to determine your onset date of disability because it may affect your benefit pay period or even your eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. The SSA bases this date on medical records, work history, applicant allegations, and other types of evidence.

The following information highlights the ways in which the SSA determines your disability onset date. If you still need help, consider speaking with a Social Security disability lawyer near you.

Determining Your Onset Date: Most Cases

For disabilities of nontraumatic origin, which includes most SSI or SSDI cases, SSA officials consider the following factors (the weight given to any one type of evidence depends on each individual case, although the onset date cannot be inconsistent with the medical evidence):

  1. Allegations of Applicant: Your statement claiming when the disability began is included on the application and on the Disability Report (PDF, Form SSA-3368-BK).
  2. Work History: The local SSA district office will document the claim with respect to the date on which you stopped working via a Work Activity Report (PDF, Form SSA-821-F4 for employees or Form SSA-820-F4 for the self-employed).
  3. Medical and Related Evidence: All available medical records (if relevant) should be submitted. While it may be impossible to determine an exact onset date for slowly progressive impairments, SSA officials will make an inference based on medical records.

For disabilities of a traumatic origin, the onset date is the day of the injury if you expect to be unable to work for at least 12 months (continuous) or are expected to die as a result of the traumatic incident.

In some cases, it may be inferred that the disabling condition occurred before the date of the first recorded medical exam or the last day of work. The disability onset date for such cases (where precise evidence is not available) depends on a judgment of the available facts, often by a medical advisor at the hearing.

Hospitalized Mental Patients

For cases involving a hospitalized (or formerly hospitalized) individual claiming mental impairment, the alleged onset date is made in the Report on Individual with Mental Impairment (PDF, Form SSA-824). The following types of evidence are considered when determining the onset date:

  1. Medical Records: Medical report prepared by the attending physician.
  2. Medical History: A hospital report may include a description of when pronounced mental symptoms first appeared, prior to hospitalization, as well as the applicant's condition before being admitted. In some cases, the onset date may be established as this earlier date.
  3. Allegation by Hospital Staff: A detailed statement by a member of the hospital's medical staff could provide the basis for an earlier onset date (prior to hospitalization) if it is consistent with the work record (if available).
  4. Nonmedical Evidence: Evidence from nonmedical individuals describing reasons for work stoppage or instances of abnormal behavior. This is evaluated along with the medical record.

Applicant's family members, former employers, and others may be contacted in order to determine the disability onset date, but only with the permission of the applicant or the applicant's representative.

Special Cases

Each claim is unique, so consider speaking with a Social Security disability lawyer if you are unsure of how to determine your onset date. Below are the rules pertaining to a couple of special cases:

  • Childhood Disability: It usually is not necessary to determine an exact onset date, as long as disability began prior to the applicant's 22nd birthday. Such a determination is necessary if the applicant filed before turning 23, the disability began less than 12 months before the application was filed, and the disability was established after the attainment of age 18.
  • Blindness: For statutory blindness, the onset date is the date when medical evidence (or reasonable inferences) shows that the applicant's visual impairment first met the legal definition of statutory blindness. A worker who engaged in work activities despite being legally blind, but was later unable to continue working, must identify a second date on which he or she was no longer able to engage in gainful activity.

Get a Handle on Your SSDI Claim: Contact an Attorney

When you're disabled and just trying to move through the day, it can be frustrating figuring out the finer points of filing a Social Security Disability Insurance claim. An attorney will ensure everything is filed properly and help you get every penny to which you're entitled. Contact an SSDI attorney near you today.


You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified social security lawyer to assist in your social security disability matter.

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