If you are eligible for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits, you may receive benefits each month for as long as you’re disabled and cannot work. A San Diego disability attorney can help you apply for and receive SSD benefits and answer all of your questions about the SSD program.

The application and approval process for Social Security Disability benefits can take a considerable amount of time – longer than a year in many cases. Qualifying for benefits often means appealing an initial denial of your benefits, and in some cases, filing a second appeal.

It’s a lengthy process, so many applicants ask if the Social Security Administration (SSA) owes them “back pay” from the date they became disabled. With several qualifications, the answer is yes. Keep reading to learn how that back pay is calculated and when you can expect to receive it.

How Long Can It Take to Receive SSD Benefits?

When you are approved for Social Security Disability benefits, the SSA owes you for more than your first monthly disability check. You will also receive back pay. The amount of back pay will depend on several factors including how long you have been waiting to receive your benefits.

Because so many people apply for SSD benefits, there is a backlog, and because each application must be processed carefully, there may be a substantial length of time between the date you apply for your SSD benefits and the date you receive an approval or denial of your application.

Most first-time applications for SSD benefits are denied, but a San Diego disability lawyer will appeal that decision for you. Many appeals are successful, but a year or more could pass from the date you first apply for your SSD benefits until the date you are approved for those benefits.

What is the Five-Month Wait Period?

The Social Security Administration imposes a mandatory five-month waiting period for all Social Security Disability benefit applicants. You must be disabled for at least five months before you are “owed” Social Security Disability benefit payments.

You are owed disability benefits starting at the beginning of the sixth month. The five-month “wait period” may not, in fact, add to your actual wait for SSD benefits because the average processing time for an initial disability decision as of 2022 is already five to six months.

However, because the SSA does not pay SSD benefits for the five-month wait period, you do not receive back pay for that five months. Your “date of entitlement” is the date that Social Security starts owing you SSD benefits – five months after the date you became disabled.

How is SSD Back Pay Handled?

After you have been approved for Social Security Disability benefits, you will receive back payments for the months – except for the first five – between the date you first applied for disability benefits and the date you were approved for those benefits.

You will also be paid for any months between the date you became disabled (the Social Security Administration calls this your “disability onset date”) and the date when you first applied for Social Security Disability benefits. These payments are called “retroactive” benefits.

However, you cannot receive more than twelve months of retroactive benefits, even if you were disabled months or years earlier. If the SSA approves you for SSD benefits, you will probably receive a single lump-sum payment for the full amount of SSD back pay that you’re owed. That payment should arrive at about the same time as your first regular monthly benefit payment.

When Should You Contact a Social Security Disability Attorney?

However, if you have been disabled, you should not wait twelve months or even one month to apply for Social Security Disability benefits. If you become disabled, speak to a San Diego disability lawyer immediately and before you apply for Social Security Disability benefits.

Your lawyer will guide you step-by-step through the SSD application process so that you can receive your Social Security Disability benefits as soon as possible. He or she will know what steps you should take and how to obtain the benefit payments you need and deserve.

Sometimes, for example, the Social Security Administration may change an applicant’s reported disability onset date so that the applicant receives less back pay. If this happens in your own case, your San Diego disability attorney can challenge the date change so that your disability onset date accurately describes when you became disabled and unable to work.

What Will It Cost to Hire a Disability Lawyer?

If you’re disabled and can’t work, how can you afford a disability lawyer? Under Social Security rules, a lawyer’s compensation must be based on a percentage of the final award. This means that you pay your lawyer nothing until he or she obtains SSD benefits and back pay on your behalf.

It also means that your first legal consultation is offered with no cost or obligation. It’s your chance to receive personalized advice and learn how Social Security rules and regulations apply to your own situation. When you apply for SSD benefits:

  1.  File your application as soon as possible after you become disabled.
  2.  Expect your first application to be rejected. You will probably have to file an appeal.
  3.  Understand that a statement from your doctor – saying that you are disabled – is not enough. The Social Security Administration’s definition of a disability may be narrower than your doctor’s definition.
  4.  Nevertheless, you must adhere to your doctor’s recommendations. Do not miss any follow-up visits, or the Social Security Administration may decide that you don’t really need Social Security Disability benefits.
  5.  Contact a disability attorney as soon as possible after you are disabled. If your application for SSD benefits is rejected – like most first-time applications – you will need an attorney to handle your appeal, but it is better to have an attorney’s advice from the start.

You’ve Earned Your SSD Benefits

If you are a working person, SSD benefits are benefits that you and more than 150 million other working people in the United States have earned. Through your payroll tax contributions, you’ve gained financial protection in case you become disabled and are no longer able to work.

Applying for SSD benefits is a complicated and frustrating process, but more than eight million disabled workers have gone through that process and are now receiving SSD benefits. If you need to receive those benefits, the time to contact a disability attorney is now.