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Social Security Disability Evaluation

Common Disability Terms

Acceptable Medical Sources

A list of sources the Social Security Administration accepts as qualified to document the existence of an applicant’s mental or physical impairment.  Some examples are: licensed physicians, psychologists, licensed optometrists, podiatrists and qualified speech pathologists.

Activities of Daily Living

Activities of daily living which can include, adaptive activities such as cleaning, shopping, cooking, taking public transportation, paying bills, maintaining a residence, grooming and hygiene, using telephones and directories and using a post office. The Social Security Administration uses the ability to perform these duties to determine that the claimant may also be unable to sustain work-related activities.

Administrative Law Judge (alj)

Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) who are hired by the federal government to conduct impartial Social Security Disability hearings and make Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability determinations as to which applicants are approved for benefits.

Adult Child

An adult who has a disabling mental or physical health condition which started before the child reached the age of 22.


The process by which a denied applicant can request for their case to be reconsidered for approval.

Application For Benefits

Personal and financial information that is provided to the Social Security Administration (name, Social Security number, spouse’s information and bank account information) in order to request benefits.

Average Monthly Earnings

The dollar amount used in calculating your monthly Social Security benefit if you attained age 62 or became disabled before 1978. This amount is determined by dividing the total earnings in the “computation years” by the number of months in those same years.

Award Letter

Social Security Disability award letters that are sent to applicants notifying they have  been approved to receive benefits.

Back Pay

Benefits that are payable retroactively back to the date the SSI claimant filed their Supplemental Security Income application, regardless of the date the claimant claims to have become disabled. Social Security Disability Insurance claimants may be able to receive back pay from the established onset date of their mental or physical impairment less a five month waiting period, with the caveat that the back pay will not be paid for more than 12 months before the date the claimant filed their application. Back pay may be paid in one lump sum for SSDI or in installments for SSI.


The Social Security Administration pays claimants monthly benefits in five major areas:

  • Retirement
  • Disability
  • Family (dependents)
  • Survivors
  • Medicare

Benefits Eligibility Screening Tool (best)

A tool used to determine if an applicant is eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits. Information that the claimant must provide includes: the date of birth for the claimant and spouse, earnings information for the claimant, the date of the claimant’s marriage and financial information for the claimant and their family.


An individual from the age of birth up to age 18.

Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA)

The automatic increase in Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments, due to increases in the cost-of-living (inflation).

Credits (Social Security Credits)

The credits earned as a result of working and paying taxes. Most people need 40 credits to qualify for benefits; however, younger people need fewer credits to qualify. (also called  Quarters of Coverage)

Denial Letter

The letter sent to the applicant notifying them they were not approved for benefits.

Dependent Benefits

See Family Benefits.

Disability Benefits

You can get disability benefits if you are under full retirement age, have earned enough Social Security credits and have a medical condition that is expected to prevent you from working for at least 12 months.

Disability Interview

Interview of the applicant that is used to determine eligibility for benefits. The interview includes information about medical conditions, prior work history, finances, tax returns, birth certificate and identification information as well as proof of residency.

Early Retirement

A claimant can begin collecting Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62.

Earnings Record

A chronological history of the amount of money you earned each year during your working lifetime.  The credits you earned remain on your Social Security record even when you change jobs or have no earnings.

Expedited Reinstatement

Social Security Disability claimants who have received disability benefits in the past may make a request for an expedited reinstatement of Social Security Disability Insurance benefits if their benefits have been stopped within the last 5 years.

Family Benefits

When an claimant is eligible for retirement or disability benefits, the following people may receive benefits on their record:

  • spouse if he or she is at least 62 years old (or any age but caring for an entitled child under age 16 or disabled)
  • children if they are unmarried and under age 18, or under age 19 and a full-time elementary or secondary student
  • children age 18 or older but disabled before age 22
  • ex-spouses age 62 or older


FICA stands for “Federal Insurance Contributions Act.” It’s the tax withheld from your salary or self-employment income that funds the Social Security and Medicare programs.

Health Insurance

See Medicare.

Income (for SSI)

Any earned and unearned wages that are calculated to determine if an applicant qualifies for benefits. Earned wages that includes money received from wages, self-employment earnings and royalties. Unearned income is money received from all other sources such as: interests from bank accounts or investments, gifts, Social Security payments, pensions, veteran payments and some of the income of spouses, parents, or sponsors of an alien.

Insured Status

Applicants that are eligible for retirement or disability benefits because they earned enough credits to qualify.

Lifetime Record of Earnings

See Earnings Record.

Maximum Earnings

The maximum amount of earnings we can count in any calendar year when computing your Social Security benefit.


A joint federal and state program that helps with medical costs for people with low incomes and limited resources.


The federal health insurance program for:

  • people 65 years of age or older
  • certain younger people with disabilities
  • people with permanent kidney failure with dialysis or a transplant

Quarter of Coverage (QC)

See Credits

Record of Earnings

See Earnings Record.

Retirement Age – Minimum

The minimum age for retirement—age 62 for workers, and age 60 for widows or widowers.

Retirement Earnings Test

The test that determines if an applicant exceeds a specified amount of earning that would result in reduced benefits.

Retroactive Benefits

See Back Pay.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

A federal program that pays cash benefits to the retired or disabled.

Social Security Office

Your local Social Security office is the place where you can:

  • apply for a Social Security number;
  • check on your earnings record;
  • apply for Social Security benefits, black lung benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and hospital insurance (Medicare) protection;
  • enroll for medical insurance;
  • get help applying for food stamps and;
  • learn everything you need to know about your rights and obligations under the Social Security law.


A claimant’s partner may be considered a spouse, in order to receive benefits, if:

  • they were married to the worker
  • they would hold a status of a husband or a wife for that person’s personal property if they had no will (common law married)
  • they went through a marriage ceremony in good faith, which would have been valid except for a legal impediment.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

A federal supplemental income program funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security taxes).  It helps aged, blind, and disabled people who have limited income and resources by providing monthly cash payments to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.

Survivors Benefits

Benefits based on a worker’s record (if the worker should die) are paid to:

  • widow/widower age 60 or older, 50 or older if disabled, or any age if caring for a child under age 16 or disabled before age 22
  • children, if they are unmarried and under age 18, under 19 but still in school, or 18 or older but disabled before age 22
  • parents if you provided at least one-half of their support

Wage Earner

A person who earns Social Security credits while working for wages or self-employment income.


All payment for services performed for an employer. Wages do not have to be cash. The cash value of all compensation paid to an employee in any form other than cash is also considered wages, unless the form of payment is specifically not covered under the Social Security Act.


A claimant’s partner may be considered a widow/widower of the worker if, at the time the insured person died:

  • they were married to worker were validly married
  • they would have the status of a husband or a wife for that person’s personal property if he or she had no will (common law married)
  • they went through a marriage ceremony in good faith that would have been valid except for a legal impediment


See Wage Earner.

Work Incentives

A program developed by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to encourage Social Security Disability claimants to try to return to work. Work incentives include: trial work periods, expedited reinstatement and continuing Medicare coverage.