SSA disability has a waiting period

 Q:  I understand there is a waiting period before Social Security disability benefits actually start.  How does it work? 

A:   A waiting period before receiving Social Security disability is in the law to help ensure that benefits are paid only for long-term disability.   

Once approved, Social Security disability benefits are paid after someone has been disabled continuously throughout a period of five full calendar months.  The waiting period is based on the established starting point of the disability, not when the application was filed.  Social Security calls this disability starting point the onset date.  Benefits are not paid for any month in the waiting period.  

Here are two commonplace examples using the same person to show how the waiting period works: 

First, have a person file application for SSA disability in January 2012 and give them an approved disability starting date (onset) of June 24, 2011.  The five full month waiting period is the five months of July – November 2011, with benefits first payable for December.   Once approved, benefits to this person can start immediately, effective for December, because the waiting period was already completed based on the onset date. 

For the second example, instead of filing for disability in January 2012, the same person filed application during July 2011.  In this example, say the application was approved, again using an onset date of June 24, 2011, with all application development completed during October.   Although benefits are approved, payment cannot be started immediately because the person is still in the waiting period.  Payment will begin once the waiting period is completed, with the first benefits payable for December 2011 as in the first example.

Disability waiting periods apply only to Social Security benefits, not to Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a different program.   Very often people complete disability applications for both programs at the same time.   If both are approved, sometimes SSI benefits can be paid for the time of the Social Security waiting period.  Once received, Social Security disability income will stop or reduce the SSI

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