Glossary Under a Magnifying GlassAs a first time Social Security applicant, you will hear many new terms. These words and phrases are essential to the Social Security disability eligibility process, and, therefore, critical to understand.

Social Security Disability Terms Defined

Some common Social Security disability terms include:

  • Acceptable Medical Sources: a person or institution qualified to provide evidence about your disability. This includes but isn’t limited to medical doctors and psychologists.
  • Activities of Daily Living: basic things most people do each day, including, but not limited to taking care of personal hygiene and preparing meals.
  • Alleged Onset Date: the date you claim that you are no longer able to work because of your disability.
  • Appeal: there are four levels of appeal after an initial Social Security disability application is denied. These levels include reconsideration, hearing, Appeals Council review, and filing a federal court case.
  • Average Indexed Monthly Earnings: the average of your monthly income that the Social Security Administration uses to determine your Social Security disability benefits.
  • Award Letter: the letter informing you that you are eligible for Social Security disability benefits and detailing the specifics of your benefits, such as when your benefits will start and how much you will receive.
  • Back Pay: Social Security disability benefits from the time that your application should have been approved through your approval date. Back pay is also known as retroactive pay.
  • Blue Book: detailed listing of disabilities maintained by the Social Security Administration. If you meet the qualifications for any of the listings, you will be eligible for Social Security disability.
  • Compassionate Allowance Initiative: a list of medical conditions that qualify for faster Social Security disability eligibility review.
  • Consultative Exam: medical exam scheduled by the Social Security Administration with a physician it chooses for you.
  • Disability: the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity because of a medical condition that is expected to last continuously for at least 12 months or result in death.
  • Disability Determination Services (DDS): state-level agencies that review Social Security disability applicant eligibility.
  • Disability Examiner: disability examiners are employed by DDS and make recommendations about applicants’ eligibility to the Social Security Administration.
  • Past Relevant Work: the Social Security Administration may consider any work you did in the last 15 years when determining whether your disability prevents you from engaging in substantial gainful activity.
  • Representative Payee: someone who receives Social Security disability benefits on your behalf if you cannot manage your own money.
  • Residual Functional Capacity: your remaining ability to work after your disability is taken into account.
  • Substantial Gainful Activity: you must not be able to engage in substantial gainful activity to be found eligible for Social Security disability benefits. Substantial gainful activity is a specific dollar amount. If you earn more, or could earn more, than the substantial gainful activity threshold, then you are not eligible for disability benefits.
  • Waiting Period: the five-month period between your alleged onset date and when you are first able to receive Social Security disability benefits.
  • Work Credits: you earn credits for each quarter that you work and pay into the Social Security system. You must earn a certain number of work credits to be eligible for Social Security disability. The number of required work credits varies with age.

None of the terms defined above exist in isolation. You need to understand how all of these terms work together in the Social Security disability eligibility process so that you can be confident that the Social Security Administration treats your claim fairly.

Don’t Let These Social Security Terms Overwhelm You

You don’t have to navigate the confusing Social Security disability eligibility process alone. Whether you are filing your initial application or your final appeal, our New England Social Security disability lawyers are here to help you. We know Social Security disability law inside and out. When you hire us, we will make sure that your claim is treated fairly, and we will fight hard to get you the benefits you deserve.

You won’t have to spend your time learning about the process. Instead, you can spend your time on things that really matter in your life while being confident that your disability claim is being handled by our Boston area Social Security disability lawyers. Call us or contact us through this website today to learn more.

Are You Looking for a Social Security Disability Attorney in Boston, MA?

If you are looking to apply for social security disability, you need to speak with an experienced social security disability lawyer as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Natick Office directly at 888.904.6847 to schedule your free consultation.


John L. Keefe
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Founding Attorney, Massachusetts Social Security Disability Lawyer