You must submit an application to receive Social Security disability benefits. However, benefits might not start right away, even after you are approved for benefits. Instead, you might have to wait to receive your first check. This waiting period is called an “elimination period.”
The elimination period is five months—and they have to be full calendar months. This period sets out that you have to be disabled for a period of at least five months before you can start receiving benefits. It starts as of the date that your injury or illness became disabling. This date is often called the “disability onset date.”
Essentially, the elimination period starts the first full month after you become disabled and meet the requirements to be insured by Social Security based on the level of your earnings. Benefits then actually begin in the sixth month after you become disabled.
Below are a few of the most frequently asked questions relating to the elimination period for Social Security benefits.
Why Does the Elimination Period Exist?
The elimination period or waiting period is required because the Social Security Administration (SSA) only provides benefits for long-term disabilities. The SSA considers any disability that lasts under five months to be a short-term disability. Essentially, if your disability ends before the end of the five-month waiting period, then you will not qualify for SSDI benefits.
Keep in mind that SSDI benefits are a form of insurance. Many private disability insurance companies have similar waiting periods when they also only cover long-term disabilities.
What Are the Exceptions to the Five-Month Elimination Period?
While the elimination period is required in most cases, there are some exceptions to the rule. When an exception applies, you can start receiving benefits as soon as your application is approved. There are three exceptions to the elimination period.
1. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits.
There is no waiting period for SSI benefits. If you applied for SSI benefits instead of SSDI benefits, you could start getting payments the first month after your application.
Keep in mind that SSI benefits are lower than SSDI benefits, and SSI benefits are only available to those who are disabled or older and have limited income and resources. SSDI benefits, on the other hand, are based on disability status and prior work credits.
2. Reinstating SSDI Benefits.
You also do not have to wait for SSDI benefits if the Social Security Administration has already approved your application previously. This exception is generally only available to those who are reinstating their benefits.
3. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Diagnosis.
There is no waiting period for those who have become disabled because of ALS. However, you have to be approved for SSDI benefits on or after July 23, 2020 for this exception to apply.
Applying During the Elimination Period
SSA will tell you that you should apply for benefits as soon as you become disabled. You do not have to wait for the elimination period to apply for benefits.
Should I Wait to Apply for Benefits Until After My Elimination Period Is Over?
In general, it will take three to five months for the SSA to process an SSDI application, so you might as well go ahead and apply, even if you are still in the elimination period.
Waiting without income for several months can be very difficult, so the sooner you apply, the better. You will only end up waiting longer for a decision if you wait until after the elimination period to start the application process.
Where Can I Get Help with My Claim?
The Social Security Administration provides several resources on its website to help with disability claims. A few examples of helpful resources, all SSA publications, are included below.
- Disability Benefits
- Adult Disability Checklist
- Online SSA Benefit Application
- Check the Status of an Application
- Benefits Eligibility Screening Tool
You can also speak with an experienced disability attorney about your claim. A disability attorney can often help you with your application or help you work through an appeal if your claim has been denied. Many attorneys offer free consultations so you can talk through your claim and get advice on what you should do next.
Am I Allowed to Have an Attorney at All Stages of the Social Security Disability Process?
You are allowed to have an attorney help you at every stage of the Social Security disability process, from your initial application through the appeal process. While you are not required to have an attorney at any stage in the disability process, having a disability lawyer can increase your chances of approval for SSDI or SSI benefits.
An experienced attorney will know what the SSA examiners are looking for when they review applications. Having the right “buzz words” and including the right level of detail will help you not only through an initial claim but also through your appeal if you are denied at the first level of the application process.
Can I Keep My Benefits If I Move Out of the U.S.?
Whether you can keep your disability benefits after you move out the United States depends on the unique facts of your situation. For example, what kind of benefits you have will affect whether they will continue.
- Social Security Disability Insurance: You will continue receiving benefits as normal as long as they are from your own work credits, and you did not move to a prohibited country. The benefits will continue for at least six months.
- Supplemental Security Income: Your benefits will stop after 30 days of being outside the United States. They will not restart unless you return to the U.S.
U.S. Treasury sanctions might also limit whether you can receive SSA benefits while in a specific country. In general, SSA will not send benefits if you are in the following countries unless you qualify for an exception.
You do not waive your rights to benefit payments while in these countries. Instead, your payments will simply be withheld until you go to a country where payments can be sent.
Additional residency requirements might also need to be met if you reside in a specific country. You can contact the Federal Benefits Unit near you to address specific questions about your situation.