When you file for Social Security disability, you will be asked to identify the date you contend that you became disabled. This date is known as your Alleged Onset Date (abbreviated by Social Security as your AOD).
Social Security does not offer much guidance as to what this date should be. I have had clients tell me that in telephone applications, the SSA phone operator will suggest a date. Other clients pick a date that corresponds to the date their illness was diagnosed or the date that they stopped working.
In general, your Alleged Onset Date should be the date when your medical or mental health condition created so many impediments to your ability to function at a job that you had to stop working.
I generally advise my clients to choose a date after they stop working. Remember that Social Security defines disability as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity – if you are working and earning money, the presumption will be that you are engaged in substantial activity. In other words, you cannot be working and disabled at the same time.
What About Part Time Work or Work with Special Considerations?
In theory, you could qualify for disability if your work is not substantial, or if you are getting special considerations that others might not get. For example, you may be a 20 year employee at a company where the owner has created a special position that allows you to remain on the payroll but includes extra help from co-workers or a unique job description.
Several years ago, this argument would sometimes work but in the current climate, I am finding that judges are just not willing to award disability benefits to a claimant for a time period when that claimant is earning money. I like to tell my clients that Social Security decision makers see things in black and white – either you disabled or you are not. You either have the capacity to work or you do not. If you try to hedge your bets you will probably lose.
Don’t Rely on Your Diagnosis Date
I also encourage my clients not to focus on the date of their diagnosis. It does not matter if you were diagnosed with heart failure, or fibromyalgia or a herniated disc 6 years ago if you continued working. Instead focus on the date that your condition reached a level where you had to stop working.
Job Going Away vs. Unable to Continue
You also need to be careful about choosing your last day of work as your onset date if you stopped working because your company went out of business or laid off workers for lack of business. In these cases, the judge will wonder if you could have continued working for weeks, months or years had your job remained stable.
In my experience it is a good practice to tie your onset date to a medical event such as
- a diagnosis date
- a medical crisis (stroke, heart attack, suicide attempt, etc.)
- a hospitalization
- a termination for excessive absences
choose a date that is after you last worked.
You will come across as much more credible if you choose an onset date that logically arises from the decline in your health as opposed to a date that seems more connected with your disability application.
Can you change your onset date after you start your case? Yes, and I’ll discuss that issue in a future blog post.
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