five-month waiting period for SSDI

If you apply for Social Security Disability Insurance, and your application is approved, you will be subject to a five-month waiting period before your benefits begin. What is the five-month waiting period for SSDI, and how does it apply to your claim? Learning more about when the waiting period starts, how it relates to your application date, and exceptions that may apply can help you understand what to expect. 

What Is Social Security Disability Insurance?

Social Security Disability Insurance is a federally funded entitlement program. It is administered by the Social Security Administration. Unlike Social Security Retirement Insurance, which is based on age, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides income and benefits to people who have qualifying medical conditions. To receive benefits, an applicant must have a severe physical or mental disability that is expected to last at least one year or end in death. 

What Is the Five-Month Waiting Period for SSDI, and How Does it Apply to Your Claim?

People who are approved for SSDI benefits do not begin receiving payments immediately in most cases. Instead, claimants must generally wait five months before their benefits start. If the five-month waiting period applies to you, you should receive your first SSDI benefit payment in the sixth full month after your disabling condition began.  

Why Is There a Five-Month Waiting Period for SSDI Benefits?

The five-month waiting period exists so that the Social Security Administration (SSA) can verify whether you are suffering from a long-term disability that renders you unable to work and perform a substantial gainful activity (SGA). The waiting period has been part of the SSDI program since the 1950s. 

Are SSDI waiting periods on their way out? Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the five-month waiting period will be eliminated any time soon. According to Congressional research, eliminating the waiting period for disability benefits would cost the SSA billions of dollars each year. Despite claims that the rule is necessary, people often contend that the five-month waiting period is antiquated, arbitrary, and inequitable. They argue that the five-month waiting period causes applicants to suffer extreme economic hardships because they are unable to work or are only able to work part-time because of their disabilities. Exceptions may apply to the five-month waiting period for SSDI, however.

Factors that Impact the Five-Month Waiting Period for SSDI

Several factors may impact when you begin receiving your SSDI payments. One of these factors is the date your disability began, or the “onset date” as determined by the SSA. The five-month waiting period begins tolling on your onset date. This is the date that the Social Security Administration determines that you became disabled. This is also known as the date of entitlement. 

Another factor that can affect the five-month waiting period for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits is your protective filing date. This is not the date of your initial SSDI application. Instead, it is the date you formally advised the SSA that you would be applying for SSDI benefits. If the Social Security Administration determines that your protective filing date is the date of entitlement, and this date falls five months prior to your application date, you can begin receiving benefits almost immediately.  

Exceptions to the Five-Month Waiting Period for SSDI

While the five-month waiting period for SSDI is strict, there are some exceptions. 

No Waiting Period for SSI

If you have been approved to receive Supplemental Security Income, you are exempt from the mandatory five-month waiting period. Unlike Social Security Disability Insurance, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a means-tested benefit. SSI pays cash benefits to low-income adults who are older than 65, and people with disabilities. To qualify for SSI, an adult must have a disability that substantially impairs his or her ability to work. Children must suffer from a severe functional disability to receive SSI. 

Waiting Period Waived for Expedited Reinstatement

The five-month waiting period is waived for people applying for expedited reinstatement of SSDI benefits. This exception applies if you were previously approved for SSDI, recovered from your disability, returned to work, and then became disabled again. Your disability must have resulted from the same or a related condition that caused your prior disability. Your request for reinstatement must be submitted within five years from the last month in which you previously received SSDI benefits.

Dependents of Disabled Workers Are Exempt

There is no waiting period for people who are applying as dependents of disabled workers. Dependents include current and former spouses and children. For spouses to qualify, they must be older than 62 and caring for a child who is younger than 16. Additionally, the child must qualify for disability benefits. Ex-spouses must be single, older than 62, and eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance. Minor children must be single and younger than 18 years of age. Children include biological, adopted, and step-children. Adult children are also eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance. 

To be eligible, an adult child must have a parent that receives Social Security Disability Insurance. Additionally, the adult child must be suffering from a disability that began affecting him or her before the claimant turned 22 or a full-time high school student who is younger than 19. An adult child can receive benefits until two months after his or her 19th birthday, or until graduating from high school.

Expedited Processing for Compassionate Allowances 

Another exception is the Compassionate Allowances Program. Under this program, the five-month waiting period is not waived if you are diagnosed with certain diseases or conditions, but your application is expedited. Qualifying conditions for the program include certain brain dysfunctions, cancers, and rare diseases. 

There is no formal application process for the Compassionate Allowances Program. Instead, when you submit your SSDI application, it is reviewed by the Social Security Administration to determine if it merits expedited processing. Additionally, the SSA analyzes your application to decide if it can be approved without further review. An application has a higher chance of getting expedited if it includes medical records that confirm your diagnosis. 

No Waiting Period for People with ALS

The five-month waiting period for SSDI benefits is waived if your disability is caused by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and you were approved for SSDI benefits on or after July 23, 2020. 

What Are Retroactive Benefits?

There are instances in which an applicant’s established onset date precedes his or her application date. This results in frequently asked questions about disability back pay. If the Social Security Administration determines that your established onset date, i.e., the day you became disabled, occurred before your application date, you may be eligible for retroactive benefits. Retroactive benefits is the money you would have been paid had your application been submitted on the date you became disabled. For example, if you applied on January 1, 2022, but it was later determined that your established onset date fell on January 1, 2021, you are entitled to receive back pay starting from June 1, 2021. 

Another way a person may be entitled to retroactive benefits is they obtained a protective filing date. As previously discussed, a protective filing date is not the date of your application but is instead is the date you notified the Social Security Administration of your intention to make a claim. You may be able to obtain retroactive benefits if you can prove you became disabled when you obtained a protective filing date.

Is There a Time Limit for Retroactive SSDI Benefits?

You are only eligible to receive 12 months worth of retroactive benefits. Because the five-month waiting period applies to retroactive benefits, your established onset date must fall at least 17 months prior to the date that the Social Security Administration approves your application. Unfortunately, you will not be entitled to interest on your retroactive benefits.

What Is The Claims Process For Social Security Disability Insurance

To make a claim for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, you need to submit an application. While the timeline for a disability claim varies, it generally takes about three to eight months for the Social Security Administration to make a decision on an initial application. In addition to cases that are eligible for the Compassionate Allowances program, claims by disabled military veterans are also expedited. The Social Security Administration decided that it would be wise to make disabled vets a priority in Social Security disability claims.

There are some steps you can take to ensure your disability application is processed accurately and in a timely manner. When filing your claim, you should provide accurate contact information for your treating physicians. Be sure to answer the application questions in detail, and do not downplay the impact of your condition. Additionally, you should include your medical records with your application. 

Most SSDI claims are denied at the initial application level. If your application is denied, you can seek reconsideration by the Social Security Administration. A request for reconsideration can add another three to four months to the claims process. Since the same information you originally submitted will be reviewed by the same people at the SSA, your chances of winning benefits at this level are slim. Most people who are turned down for disability benefits at the reconsideration level go on to request an Administrative Law Judge hearing.

There is currently a backlog of disability applicants who are waiting for their ALJ hearing. In some cases, claimants wait months, or even years to be seen by the Judge.  

The ALJ hearing is one of the most important events that occur in the SSDI claims process. The hearing give you and your social security disability lawyer the opportunity to submit additional evidence to prove your disability. During the hearing, you will also be interviewed by the Judge. A vocational expert’s opinion and the testimony of your healthcare providers will also be considered. Approximately 60% of applicants who are successful in obtaining disability benefits receive approval at this stage.