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What Can You Do To Increase Your Odds Of Receiving Retroactive Disability Payments?

If you've recently submitted your first application for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits after becoming too disabled to hold down full-time employment, you may be wondering what to expect from the process. You may have heard that you will have to wait to receive benefits, even months after you have been approved. However, there is still a mechanism that can allow you to receive a lump sum payment covering this waiting period, as well as some additional time preceding your application. Read on to learn more about the SSD waiting period, as well as what you can do to receive retroactive benefits going back to your initial date of disability. 

How long must you wait to receive your first SSD check?

If you're approved for SSD, you won't receive payments for the first five months following the onset of your disability. In many cases, you may qualify for short-term or long-term disability benefits through an employer-sponsored insurance plan that will help provide you with temporary income during this time. (If your disability is related to work you performed or an on-the-job injury, you'll also want to investigate whether you can receive workers compensation benefits in addition to SSD benefits.)

However, it's unusual for someone to apply for and receive SSD within five months. Because the application can be lengthy and involve obtaining doctor statements, medical files, and other documentation of your disability, and because the waiting period for review by an administrative judge can be months, you'll likely begin receiving payments shortly after you're approved. You may also want to investigate whether you're entitled to back benefits going back to your initial disability date, which can be paid in a lump sum as soon as you begin receiving benefits.

When are retroactive SSD payments granted?

In general, you'll qualify to receive SSD payments going back to your initial date of disability (as testified by your physicians and affirmed by the Social Security Administration) -- but you're unable to be paid for a disability onset date that is more than 17 months before your application date. This 17 months includes the five month exclusion period and a 12 month period during which you'll be eligible for benefits. Unfortunately, this can mean that even if you were disabled for years before your application, you'll only be able to receive benefits going back one year. This is why it's important to file your application (or a protective filing) as quickly as possible, to avoid going months or years without an income or access to disability benefits.

What should you do if you feel you're entitled to retroactive benefits? 

If you've been disabled for some time already, the best way to receive the maximum amount of benefits is to file a protective filing with the Social Security Administration. This essentially holds your place in line -- if you're disabled for 17 months before the protective filing date, you'll be able to receive benefits for the 12 months before your protective filing date, rather than the date of your actual application. This means if you don't get around to filing your application for a year after your protective filing date, or your application is denied before it is later approved, you'll be able to receive two years' worth of retroactive benefits with your first check.

You'll also want to have firm, corroborated documentation indicating the onset date of your disability. This can be tricky when dealing with degenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis or ALS. Although you may have been diagnosed years ago, it can take years or even decades for symptoms to become severe enough to designate you legally disabled. Your attorney will be able to check it out and let you know the types of documents that have passed muster with the Social Security Administration, and tailor your application (and doctor's statement) to these guidelines.