What do you do if Social Security calls you or your lawyer before your hearing with a tempting offer about your disability claims? They say they'll approve your claim, but with a catch? They will approve it if you change your onset date. What happens if you wont change your onset date?
If you say "no," does it mean Social Security will approve your claim but fight you over the onset date? If you say "no," can they still deny your claim? One would think that they have to approve the claim, but could disagree with you about the onset date. In the Morales case Social Security denied the whole claim despite the offer.
What's an "Onset Date?"
The onset date is the day you claim you were first disabled. Whether to agree to a revised onset date is something important to talk about with your disability lawyer. It can impact what and how much you receive from Social Security.
The timing of your onset date can make a difference in at least a couple ways. First it could impact how far your back benefits go. A more recent onset date may mean a smaller check for back benefits. Second, if the onset date that Social Security proposes is after your "last insured date" it may mean that you will not get disability. Instead you could receive SSI which is a needs based program. That means your SSI can be reduced or eliminated if you have too many assets or other income.
The Morales case
If you refuse to change your onset date, can Social Security still deny you benefits? They shouldn't, but proving they made the offer is another matter. The claimant in the Morales case refused to change their onset date and was denied benefits. On appeal the claimant had trouble showing that was what happened.
In Morales, the claimant's attorney said she was told by the hearing judge's assistant that they would approve the claim if the onset date was changed. The claimant didn't change the onset date and the whole claim was denied. On appeal Morales alleged that her claim was denied because she denied the offer to change her onset date.
Sadly, Morales was unable to show that the offer was even made. The appeals court seemed to agree that if the offer was made, and then denied, that would be improper. But in the absence of evidence that the offer was made, the court of appeals allowed the claim to be denied.
How to Make a Record of the Offer
Offers like the one in Morales do happen. When they happen it is important to create a record of it just in case the claim is completely denied. Here are some things you can do to preserve the issue:
- Send a letter to the hearing judge that declines their offer to change the onset date for a favorable decision. Be sure to tell them why you choose not to do so;
- At the hearing, thank the judge for contacting you about changing the onset date but explain why you declined to do so; and
- If the hearing judge denies the claim (not just the onset date) include non-record evidence in your Appeals Council appeal. This could include call logs, notes, and communications with your client about the offer - even affidavits.
Where to get help with your Social Security Disability Case
If you are looking for more information or for help with your Social Security case, try the following: