Social Security Disability Glossary of Terms

Appeal (Appeal Rights)- Whenever the Social Security Administration (SSA) makes a decision regarding your eligibility for Social Security Disability (SSD) or supplemental security income (SSI) benefits; you will receive a letter of explanation. If you disagree with the decision, you have the right to appeal, in other words, you may ask SSA to review your case.

Appeals Council – When an administrative law judge denies your appeal, you may further appeal to Appeals Council, which is the third step in the Social Security Disability appeal’s process. Appeals Council reviews the administrative law judge’s decision to determine if an error was made.

Application for Benefits – To receive Social Security, or Supplemental Security Income payments, you must complete and sign an application. Processing a Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits claim should take between 1-6 months, if you have provided all required documentation. If Social Security denies your claim, you may file an appeal and will wait even longer for a final decision.

ALJ – is an abbreviation for administrative law judge. An ALJ hears Social Security Disability and supplemental security income appeals and renders decisions on benefit claims.

Award Letter or Denial Letter – When you file for Social Security, the Social Security Administration (SSA) decides if you will receive benefits. You will receive an official letter explaining the SSA decision, If benefits are payable, the letter states the amount you will get each month.

Benefits – Social Security pays monthly benefits in five major categories: Retirement, Disability, Family (dependents), Survivors and Medicare. The retirement, family (dependents), survivor and disability programs pay monthly cash benefits, and Medicare provides medical coverage.

Credits (Social Security Credits) – As you work, you and your employer pay FICA taxes, and you earn credits that count toward your eligibility for future Social Security benefits. A maximum of four credits can be earned each year. Most people need 40 credits to qualify for benefits; however, younger people need fewer credits to qualify for disability or survivors’ benefits.

Continuing Disability Review (CDR) – When you are awarded Social Security benefits, your benefits will be reviewed periodically reviewed to determine if there has been any medical improvement in your condition, and to determine whether you continue to be eligible for benefits. These reviews are called a medical continuing review or CDR. When you reach full retirement age, generally at age 65, you will no longer be eligible for disability benefits, but will enroll in the Social Security retirement program instead.

DIB – stands for Disability Insurance Benefits, and refers to benefits available through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), the federal insurance program funded through payroll taxes.

Disability Benefits – You may be entitled to obtain disability benefits if you:

  • Are under full retirement age
  • Have enough Social Security credits, and
  • Have a severe physical or mental impairment that is medically verified and is expected to prevent you from doing ”substantial” work for a year or more, you have a condition that is expected to result in death.

FICA – Tax acronym for Federal Insurance Contributions Act, which requires most employees and employers to pay into the federal retirement fund through payroll deductions. FICA taxes are withheld from an individual’s salary to fund Social Security and Medicare programs.

Medical Disability – According to Social Security rules, you are considered medically disabled if you are unable to engage in any ”Substantial Gainful Activity” (SGA) due to medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s), which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. In addition to your inability to perform your previous work, you are not able, considering age, education, and work experience, to engage in any other kind of SGA that exists in the national economy (1967 Amendments).

Presumptive Disability – refers to a provision that applies to certain medical conditions in which the Social Security may grant immediate SSI payments for a maximum of 6 months, Presumptive disability payments provide the SSI cash benefit while the claimant awaits the full Social Security review of their claim. If Social Security denies the SSI claim, repayment of presumptive disability benefits is not required.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) – is wage replacement income for those who pay FICA taxes, when they have a disability meeting Social Security Disability rules.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) – is a Federal income program funded by general tax dollars, not Social Security taxes. SSI provides a monthly stipend for the aged, blind, and disabled, who have little or no income.

Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) – means any significant activity, physical or mental, which is performed for remuneration or profit over a reasonable period of time. To qualify, an individual’s monthly-earned income must be less than $900, the SGA amount for 2007. SGA dollar amounts are adjusted every January, a process called indexing.

Survivor (Survivor Benefits) – refers to benefits based on your earnings record, if you should die, which are paid to:

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

A special one-time lump sum payment of $255 may be made to your spouse or minor children. An ex-spouse could also be eligible for a widow/widower’s benefit on your record.

Waiting Period – There is a full five-month waiting period, after the onset date of the disability before Social Security Disability and/or supplemental security income benefits are paid to a beneficiary. A month is considered to be a part of the waiting period, when the individual has not earned any income or their income is below Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) ($900, as of 2007).

Wage Earner – A person who earns Social Security credits while working for wages or self employment income. Sometimes referred to as the ”Worker.”

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