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This Google search question led a recent visitor to the blog: Can disability go retroactive from the onset date rather than the date you apply for benefits?

I will answer that question right now.

Disability benefits are never paid retroactively from the onset date, because by definition you were not disabled prior to your onset date. However, both your onset date and your filing date are relevant to the determination of your benefits. 

For an SSI claim, benefits begin on your filing date if your claim is granted. There are no benefits available prior to your filing date for SSI, regardless of your onset date.

For Social Security disability, retroactive disability benefits are paid for up to 12 months prior to your filing date, depending upon the interrelation beween your filing date, your onset date and the 5 month waiting period

Benefits begin 5 months after your onset date. However, retroactive benefits do not extend further back than 12 months prior to your filing date. Let's look at an example.

Assume that a person filed for Social Security disability benefits on July 31, 2008.  Disability benefits are available for the 12 months prior to that date, depending upon the claimant's onset date. If the claimant had an onset date of May 31, 2007, then the retroactive benefits would begin after the 5 month waiting period, on November 1, 2008.

However, if the onset date were earlier, say on February 1, 2007, then the full 12 months of retroactive benefits would be paid, since the 5 month waiting period would be over by July 31, 2007.

An onset date 17 months (or more) prior to your filing date maximizes your retroactive disability benefits.