What Is the Elimination Period for Social Security Disability Benefits?

close up shot of social security cards

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits have a five-month elimination period. This period begins from the date you developed a disabling injury or illness, also called your “disability onset date.” The five-month elimination period seeks to ensure that you have a long-term disabling condition before collecting any SSDI benefits. There are, however, certain exceptions to the SSDI elimination period. Read on to learn more about the elimination period for social security disability benefits. 

What Is the Elimination Period for SSDI Benefits?

The elimination period (or waiting period) is the length of time that the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses to determine whether you have one of the Social Security disability qualifying conditions. The period begins from the date your injury, illness, or medical condition became disabling, also called the disability onset date.

The elimination period runs for five consecutive months. You qualify for disability benefits if you still have a disabling condition after completing the mandatory five-month waiting period and you satisfy other eligibility requirements. The SSA denies your application if your condition gets better and you no longer have a disabling condition after the five-month period is over. 

Applicants generally receive their SSDI benefits immediately after the elimination is over, provided they still have a disabling condition and have already secured approval. The SSA, however, sometimes takes more than five months to process and approve certain claims. In this scenario, you may be entitled to collect back pay for the time you were waiting for the SSA to process and approve your application.

If your claim was approved eight months after your disability onset date, you would be entitled to collect three months of back pay – 8 months less the 5-month elimination period. Back pay is capped at 12 months. In other words, you cannot receive more than 12 months of back pay. 

You could also qualify for retroactive benefits if the SSA determines your disability onset date predates the application date. If your disability onset date is eight months earlier than your application date, for instance, you would be entitled to receive three months of retroactive pay – 8 months less the 5-month elimination period. 

The maximum amount of retroactive pay is 12 months. Your disability onset date must predate your application date by 17 months or more to be entitled to 12 months of retroactive pay. 

Let’s say your disability onset date predates your application date by 18 months. Given that 18 months is greater than the maximum 17-month limit, you would be entitled to 12 months of retroactive pay – 17 months less the 5-month elimination period. 

Why Is there an Elimination period for Social Security Disability Benefits?

The primary goal of the SSDI elimination period is to separate applicants with long-term disabling conditions from those with short-term disabling conditions. A five-month period is enough for someone with a short-term disabling condition to recover. Someone with a long-term disabling condition would require more than five months to recover. 

You are ineligible for disability benefits if you recover from your disabling condition within five months. The reason is that the SSA considers your disability a short-term disabling condition that does not meet the eligibility criteria for SSDI benefits. 

If your disabling condition is still present past the elimination period, you are entitled to receive disability benefits. The SSA considers your disability a long-term condition that meets the eligibility criteria for SSDI benefits. 

Your state Disability Determination Services (DDS) may require you to undergo a Social Security disability medical exam. DDS will then examine the doctor’s report and other specific details of your case to determine whether you have a qualifying disabling condition. 

Exceptions to the Social Security Disability Elimination Period

Exceptions apply to the five-month elimination period for disability benefits. They include: 

You Were Previously Receiving Disability Benefits 

You might avoid the elimination period if you reapply for disability benefits after getting discontinued for less than five years. You could request expedited reinstatement of your benefits if the SSA discontinued your benefits after you resumed work and surpassed the stipulated earning limit for disability benefits beneficiaries. 

The SSA will review your request to determine if you are eligible for SSDI again. Meanwhile, you will be collecting provisional benefits for six months. 

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) 

A 2020 federal law removed the waiting period for applicants with disabling conditions caused by ALS. If SSA determines that ALS caused your disabling condition, you might receive disability benefits within the first month of that determination. 

Supplementary Security Income (SSI) Benefits 

You might also skip the five-month elimination period by pursuing disability benefits through the SSI program. You could start collecting disability benefits within the first month of the onset date of your disability, provided the SSA approves your application. Another advantage of SSI benefits is that it is easier to meet the eligibility requirements. The downside is that SSI generally pays significantly lower benefits than SSDI. 

Getting Legal Help 

You stand a better chance of getting approved for disability benefits if you work with a Social Security disability lawyer than if you work alone. The earlier you involve a lawyer, the higher your chances of success. 

Your lawyer can guide you through the entire SSDI claim process, from the initial application to the appeals. The lawyer can advise you on your disability onset date and elimination period. The lawyer can also help you file an error-free disability benefits application and submit compelling medical evidence, including diagnostic test results and an opinion from your medical provider. 

Your lawyer can build and file a more convincing claim as part of the request for reconsideration if the SSA denies your initial application. The lawyer can argue your case before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) if the SSA denies your request for reconsideration. The lawyer can increase your chances of success at the hearing by guiding you on how to respond to the judge’s questions, presenting evidence-supported arguments, and skillfully cross-examining expert witnesses. 

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