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How Will Your Social Security Attorney Help You Determine the Onset Date of Your Disability?

Your “onset date” is the date when you became disabled. In order to help you determine what onset date to allege, a Social Security Disability Attorney may ask you a series of questions to decide when you stopped being able to work on a regular basis. The answers to these questions will affect how much back pay to which you are entitled and how much your monthly benefit amount will be. 

The first question is typically “when did you stop working?” The earliest possible onset date is usually the date when you last worked, especially if you were working full time. In some circumstances, however, the earnings from your last job will be below the level of “substantial gainful activity” or “SGA.” The dollar amount that constitutes SGA varies from year to year. For 2019 it was $1,220 per month. If you were earning less than the SGA amount, then your onset date of disability may be before the actual last day you worked. For example, if you were out of work for a month and then you returned to work for less than six months, your onset date might be at the beginning of the earlier period of time. 

The next question is often “why did you stop working?” There are many situations in which you may stop working even though you are not disabled. For example, someone who is fired from his or her job because the employer ceased operations may not have been disabled, especially if no impairments prevent the performance of that job. If you became unable to work at your job because you were severely injured due to an accident, then your last day of work will probably be your onset date of disability.

Another question is “has your condition become worse since you last worked?” There are many situations where your injury or conditions may prevent the performance of some jobs but not all substantial gainful activity. For example, someone with knee pain may be unable to perform past work but still retain the ability to perform less exertionally demanding jobs. If that person suffers an unrelated injury at a later date that does prevent all work the best onset date will probably be the date of the more serious injury. A Social Security Attorney will also consider disability rules that apply to your specific age before helping to determine your alleged onset date. 

Determining your earliest possible onset date will ensure to maximize retroactive benefits and, for an SSDI claim, the shortest wait for eligibility for Medicare. One option that exists even up to the time of hearing is to amend the onset date if that will make it more likely that your claim will be approved. 


If you have any questions about determining your onset date, call Green & Greenberg and we can assist you. Our disability lawyers and highly-trained staff can help answer your questions and get you the benefits you deserve.

David Spunzo is a Rhode Island native, a graduate of LaSalle Academy, Providence College, and the New England School of Law.