I first applied for Social Security disability in June of 2014. I had a hearing in October 2015. The judge ordered a second hearing scheduled in January 2016. It was cancelled because the judge was unavailable. It is now scheduled for June 2016. I am scheduled for surgery in May 2016. If the surgery is successful, I won't be eligible for disability. Is there any way to petition for the backpay only?
Yes, you can receive Social Security disability benefits for what's called a "closed period." If, at your June 2016 hearing, the administrative law judge (ALJ) finds that you are able to return to work, but that you were disabled before your surgery, you can still get backpay from the beginning of your disability entitlement date (I'll clarify this below) until the day you are physically able to return to work.
You do not need to file a separate petition for a closed period. While some applicants apply for a closed period of benefits, most of the time, applicants apply for ongoing disability benefits. If a judge finds an applicant was disabled but is no longer, Social Security will simply award the applicant with a closed period of benefits.
Some experts say that's it's easier to qualify for a closed period of benefits, since Social Security isn't committing to pay you benefits for an open-ended period of time. If your surgery is successful, you may want to talk to a disability lawyer about whether it makes sense to inform the judge that you are seeking benefits for a closed period only.
Your disability entitlement date depends on whether you qualify for SSI or SSDI (Social Security disability insurance). If your application was for SSI, you would be entitled to be paid for your entire period of disability – from the month following your application date to the date you are able to return to work. If you applied for SSDI, you would be paid only for five months following the onset of your disability until you're able to return to work (due to SSDI's five-month waiting period). Note your entitlement date can be no earlier than one year before your application date.
To learn more about closed periods, see our article on closed periods of disability.