In a previous post we discussed the significance of the Date Last Insured in Social Security disability claims. As mentioned in that post, we are following up on the significance of Onset Dates in disability claims. When a claimant files an application for disability, he or she will be asked when the disability began. Because the answer to this question is not always clear, the Social Security District Office (DO) may recommend an onset date that remains in the claim file unless it is later changed. Often the earliest onset date that is to the claimant’s benefit is used in cases where the DO recommends an onset date. When our clients are preparing to proceed before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) for their hearing, we always look at the onset date and consider if it is the best onset date to use in the claim. We often find that it is, but it is not unusual to make slight changes to the onset date to increase the chances of obtaining benefits. After reviewing thousands of files over the years, we have seen some patterns in dealing with onset dates. They are discussed below.
Clear and Distinct Onset Dates. Often the claim has a distinct event that can easily be found for a medical event that also corresponds with the date the individual stopped working. Some examples from recent files we have reviewed have included the following: sudden heart attack or stroke, automobile accident with subsequent prolonged physical rehabilitation, and inpatient hospitalization for mental illness. With such distinct events, it is often the case that an onset date might best be established as corresponding with the medical, or other, event. Sometimes it can be difficult to establish an onset date that corresponds with the date a claimant is laid off from a job. But often that is the correct onset date if the claimant was unable, due to a disabling condition, to perform essential tasks required by the job. The ALJ must make these detailed findings when deciding a case. Tactical considerations are discussed below that might make some other onset date preferred to a more clear and distinct event.
Progressive Medical Impairments. In contrast to the clear and distinct events that might make an onset date seem obvious, often our cases involve progressive impairments that are chronic, and worsen over time. These cases might also include situations where someone left the workforce for reasons other than their disabling condition. In some instances, the opinion from a medical doctor will be necessary to give an opinion of when a condition reached a disabling level of severity. The ALJ would solicit the opinion of a medical expert in this circumstance.
Tactical Considerations Regarding Onset Dates. When we discuss appropriate onset dates with claimants, tactical considerations must be taken into account. A claimant might ask the judge to amend the date of onset considering a number of factors. Some factors that might make such an amendment appropriate include, but are not limited to, the following:
- When did the claimant cease performing substantial gainful activity?
- When did the claimant’s date last insured expire?
- When did the medical evidence clearly show an increase in severity of the condition(s)?
- When did the claimant reach an age that is legally significant, such as advanced age?
- What is the level of need with respect to getting either Medicare or Medicaid?
- What amount of money is to be gained under either Social Security Disability versus SSI?
As always, have a conversation with your lawyer before asking the court to amend your onset date. Often it can change the result in your case. Because the ALJ is not obligated to accept your change in onset date, you need to feel confident about any proposed changes you seek to make in your onset date. If you have a disability claim in Texas and would like to discuss your case, feel free to call us for a free consultation.