Your Claim is Approved

You have waited months, maybe even years, and now your Social Security Administration disability claim has been approved. What now?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) notifies, by mail, all individuals who have applied for disability benefits. If your claim has been approved, you will receive an award letter. If your claim has been denied, you will receive a denial letter. Although some judges will issue a “bench decision” at the hearing indicating you have won your case, it is not “official” until you have received your award letter.

The length of time it takes to receive your Retirement, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (RSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) award letter, depends upon the level at which your disability claim is approved. For instance, if you receive an approval for RSDI or SSI at the Initial or Reconsideration level, then you may receive your disability award letter within three months. If you are approved at the hearing level, then first you will receive a letter from the hearing office stating you have been approved. This is a Notice of Decision. However, your actual Notice of Award, which spells out how much money you will receive (and when), may take another six weeks or so to arrive.

Sometimes the system is unpredictable. It would not be unusual for a claimant to start receiving benefits before receiving the official Social Security award letter.

Your Notice of Award (NOT Notice of Decision), will inform you of the following:

  • The date you became entitled to receive disability benefits,
  • The amount of your monthly disability benefit,
  • The date your monthly benefit will start,
  • The amount of your Back Pay,
  • The amount you owe your representative if you have one, and
  • The taxability of your benefits.

The amount of your monthly disability benefit is based on your lifetime average earnings covered by Social Security. If you don’t already have an estimate, you can get your Social Security statement online by going to If you haven’t earned enough during your lifetime to be insured under RSDI, then you will receive your benefits from SSI. This amount (in 2014) is $721 per month for an individual and $1,082 per couple. Some people qualify for benefits from both funds, but your SSI benefit may be reduced, depending on the amount of your RSDI benefit.

Your first RSDI disability benefit will be paid for the sixth full month after the date you were found disabled. For example, if your disability began on June 15, 2014, your first benefit would be paid for the month of December 2014, the sixth full month of disability. RSDI disability benefits can accrue either from the initial date of application, or as far back as twelve months before the date of application, minus a five-month waiting period. This five-month waiting period is, for all practical purposes, an arbitrary elimination of what would have been your first five months of benefits. If you qualify for SSI only, you will not be subject to a waiting period. Your disability benefits will be in the month following the month they are due. This means that your November benefit would be paid to you in December, and so on.

SSA takes a long time to process most disability claims so most people who are approved for benefits are owed Back Pay. If you are approved for RSDI, then you can get retroactive payments from the time you first became disabled, even if you applied for benefits at a later date. Back Pay and retroactive benefits can add up to thousands of dollars and may be more important to you than your ongoing monthly benefit.

The distribution of Back Pay depends on whether you are approved for RSDI benefits, SSI benefits, or both. SSI disability benefits accrue from the date you filed your application. Even though you may have been subsisting on very limited resources for months, you will not always receive your Back Pay immediately after your case is approved. Sometimes the waiting period is longer if your case must be decided by an administrative law judge. In addition, SSI Back Pay is paid in three increments, so you won’t receive all of your Back Pay in a lump sum as you would with RSDI. If you are awarded both RSDI and SSI benefits, then you may have to wait longer for your Back Pay than you would if you were only receiving RSDI benefits.

Your SSI benefits may be adjusted in accordance with Social Security’s “windfall offset provisions.” The amount of your SSI benefits awarded is based on your income, so if you qualify for benefits under both RSDI and SSI, your Back Pay under RSDI will count as income for SSI purposes. When Back Pay is paid, your SSI benefits will automatically be reduced to take into consideration this “income.” The adjustment to SSI benefits is calculated by treating your RSDI Back Pay as having been available to you throughout the disability period.

Your representative can answer any questions you have about your Back Pay, your ongoing monthly benefit, and your fee agreement, in the weeks that follow the receipt of your Notice of Award.