Onset Date

Ask the claimant how the onset date was selected. Was it the claimant’s idea or was it the idea of someone at the Social Security office? Now that you have explained what it means to be disabled, does the claimant have any second thoughts about the onset date? What you want to do, of course, is push the onset date back as far as possible. An onset 18 months before the date of application will pick up 12 full months of retroactive Social Security disability benefits—which are all the months of back benefits available unless you can reopen an earlier application. As a rule, if you can have your client found disabled based on an onset date earlier than 18 months before the date of application, it is beneficial because it usually increases the amount of monthly benefits. Some caution is appropriate, though, because every once in a while you will see a case where an earlier onset date actually decreases the monthly benefit amount. This tends to happen with younger workers whose earnings after the earlier onset date are relatively high compared to their earnings in prior years. (To check this, you will need to ask someone at a local Social Security office or use a computer program available from SSA called the PIA Calculator.)

Always consider the possibility that the claimant’s last job was not “substantial gainful activity” or was an “unsuccessful work attempt.” As a rule, you will need to show that any work after onset of disability:

  • was not substantial work activity (20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(a));
  • was not gainful work activity (20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(b)) after deducting impairment related work expenses (20 C.F.R. § 404.1576) and averaging earnings (20 C.F.R. § 404.1574a);
  • was done under special conditions (20 C.F.R. § 404.1573(c));
  • was subsidized (20 C.F.R. § 404.1574(a)(2)); or
  • was an unsuccessful work attempt (20 C.F.R. § 404.1574(c)).

If work was not substantial gainful activity or was an unsuccessful work attempt, you may be able to push the onset date back to the time before the claimant did such work.