Frequently Asked Questions for Social Security Disability

Q: What are the Acceptable Medical Sources?

A: Acceptable Medical Sources are Medical Documentation and Records that should come from any or all of the following sources as Proof of your Disability including, but not limited to:

  1. Hospital(s)
  2. Rehabilitation Center(s)
  3. Laboratories
  4. Psychiatrist(s)

Q: What is an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)?

A. Should your Application for Disability be Denied and you elect to Appeal, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is a judge who will preside over your Disability Hearing.

Q: Who is Considered an Adult?

A: Medical Listings for determining whether a Claimant has a Disabling Condition assume a person is an Adult at the age of 18.

Q: What is the AIME (Averaged Indexed Monthly Earnings)?

A: If a person has reached the age of 62 or became disabled after the year 1978, the AIME is the dollar amount used to calculate Social Security Benefits.

Q: What is an Appeal?

A: When a decision is made that affects a person’s benefits, the Claimant (i.e. the person filing or already receiving Disability) has the right to appeal (i.e. try and change) the Social Security Administration’s decision.

Q: What are the Base Years?

A: The years after 1950 up to the year of entitlement of benefits are a wage earner’s Base Years for computing Social Security Benefits. The Base Years include the year of the worker’s death for a Survivor’s Claim.

Q: What is a Beneficiary?

A: A Beneficiary is anyone who receives Social Security Benefits.

Q: What are Benefits?

A: There are five (5) categories of Social Security Benefits as follows:

  1. Retirement
  2. Disability
  3. Dependents
  4. Survivors
  5. Medicare

Q: What is the Blue Book?

A: The Blue Book includes a listing of Disabling Medical Conditions, and there are two (2) versions of the Blue Book; one that covers Adults, and another that covers Children.

Q: What is a Child?

A: A Child may include any of the following:

  1. Biological Child(ren)
  2. Any other Child(ren) who can Inherit the Claimant’s personal property under State Law
  3. A Child(ten) who meets certain specific criteria under the Social Security Act

Q: What is a Claimant?

A: The person filing for Social Security Benefits is the Claimant.

Q: What is COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment)?

A: Each year, Social Security Benefits and Social Security Income (SSI) payments are adjusted for inflation and this is the COLA.

Q: What are Compassionate Allowances?

A: The Approval Process may be Expedited where the Claimant’s Condition is severe and is always considered Disabling.

Q: What are the Computation Years?

A: The years with the Highest Earnings that are selected from the “Base Years” are the Computation Years.

Q: What is a Consultative Examination?

A: The SSA (Social Security Administration) may require the Claimant to submit to a Medical Examination by a physician of the SSA’s choosing if there are questions about a Claimant’s Medical Records, and this is called a Consultative Examination.

Q: What is the CPI (Consumer Price Index)?

A: The CPI is an Index used to compute the COLA increases that are prepared by the U.S. Department of Labor that charts the rise in costs of goods and services.

Q: What are Delayed Retirement Credits?

A: If Retirement is Delayed beyond Full Retirement Age, then Social Security Benefits are increased by a certain percentage depending upon a person’s date of birth. If, however, a person reaches the age of 70, even if they continue to delay taking benefits, then the Delayed Retirement Benefit Credits will no longer apply.

Q: What is a Direct Deposit?

A: A Direct Deposit is the usual way that you will receive your Social Security Benefits.

Q: What is Disability?

A: In order to receive benefits, a person must be considered Disabled by the SSA. The SSA does not consider an individual to be disabled unless the condition is expected to last for more than twelve (12) months or is expected to be terminal. A physical or mental condition that limits an individual’s ability to work, or perform or enjoy everyday activities can be considered a Disability by the SSA.

Q: What are Disability Benefits?

A: Disability Benefits may be received if the Claimant is:

  1. Under Full Retirement Age (FRA);
  2. Has enough Social Security Credits; and
  3. Has a Severe Medical Impairment that prevents her or him from doing substantial work for more than a year, or if she or he is expected to die from the impairment.

Q: What is the Disability Determination Services (DDS) Department?

A: Each State has a Medical Review Board that works on behalf of the SSA, and makes the decision about whether or not an individual is Disabled, and this is the DDS.

Q: What is Disability Insurance?

A: People become eligible for disability benefits when they cannot do the work they did prior to becoming disabled, and the work that they did do cannot be adjusted to accommodate said disabilities. Disability Insurance is one of three components in the Social Security Program that determines the number of work credits needed to qualify for benefits and this depends on a person’s age at the time she or he became disabled.

Q: What is a Disabling Condition?

A: A Disabling Condition is a medical condition that results in a Disability.

Q: What are Documents?

A: Documents are forms that are requested and submitted by a person who is Applying for Disability which include, but are not limited to, the originals or certified copies of the following:

  1. Birth Certificates
  2. Marriage Certificates
  3. W-2 Forms
  4. Tax Returns
  5. Deeds

Q: What is Early Retirement?

A: Early Retirement is when a person takes Retirement Benefits earlier than age 62, which is when a person can start getting Social Security Retirement Benefits. If a person takes Retirement Benefits Early, then her or his Retirement Benefits will be permanently reduced, based on the number of months that checks were received by the person before that person reached Full Retirement Age.

Q: What is an Earnings Record?

A: An Earnings Records is a history, organized chronologically, of the amount a person earned each year during that person’s working lifetime, and the credits earned remain on the the Social Security Records even when a person changes jobs or has no earnings.

Q: What are Family Benefits?

A: Family Benefits are benefits that may be received by the following eligible people on a Claimant’s record:

  1. A Spouse if age 62 or older unless the Spouse is caring for a child under age 16 that is entitled.
  2. A Child or Children who are Unmarried and under the age of 18, or under the age of 19 if still in school.
  3. A Disabled Child or Children who is/are over the age of 18.
  4. An Ex-Spouse but only in certain circumstances.

Q: What is the Family Maximum?

A: The Family Maximum is the most, or maximum, amount of benefits that can be payable to an entire family that are on one worker’s record.

Q: What is Full Retirement Age?

A: Full Retirement Age is the age at which a person may first become entitled to Unreduced Retirement Benefits. Starting in the year 2000, for workers and spouses born in 1938 or later, and widows/widowers born in 1940 or later, the Retirement Age gradually increases from age 65 until age 67 in the year 2022. The amount of reduction for persons who begin receiving reduced benefits are affected by this increase.

Q: What is Grids (a/k/a Medical-Vocational Guidelines)?

A: Grids are used by the SSA to determine whether an individual should be considered disabled when the disability is not severe enough to generate an automatic approval of a person’s claim. Age, education, and skills are considered by Grids.

Q: What is an Impairment?

A: Impairment may be partial or total and the overall effect of the illness, condition, or disease on the person’s ability to function can determine the level of Impairment.

Q: What are Listings?

A: Listings are Medical Listings of Conditions the SSA considers to be disabling and can be found in the Blue Book.

Q: What is a Lump Sum Death Payment?

A: When a disabled person receiving benefits dies, then a One-Time Lump Sum Payment of $ 225.00 is paid to the widow/widowers or minor children in addition to any monthly survivors’ insurance benefits that may be due.

Q: What are Maximum Earnings?

A: Maximum Earnings are the earnings counted when computing Social Security Benefits for any calendar year.

Q: What are Medical-Vocational Guidelines (a/k/a Grids)?

A: Please see the answer for What are Grids above.

Q: What is a Representative Payee?

A: A Representative Payee is a person that can be a relative, interested party, or friend who is appointed to handle Social Security matters if a person who receives Social Security Benefits or Supplemental Security Income becomes unable to handle her or his own financial affairs.

Q: What is a Residential Functional Capacity (RFC)?

A: An RFC is an evaluation of the work skills that a Claimant is still able to do.

Q: What is Retirement Age-Full Benefits?

A: For many years, Full Retirement Age was 65. Beginning in the year 2000, however, for workers and spouses born in the year 1938 or later, or widow and widowers born in 1940 or later, the Retirement Age increases gradually from age 65 until it reaches age 67 in the year 2022.

Q: What is the Retirement Age-Minimum?

A: The Minimum Retirement Age is age 60 for widows or widowers, and age 62 for workers. Anytime before a person reaches Full Retirement Age, she or he can choose a Reduced Benefit.

Q: What are Retroactive Benefits (Back Pay)?

A: Retroactive Benefits, if the Claimant meets the entitlement requirements, are monthly benefits that a Claimant may be entitled to before the month the application is actually filed.

Q: What is Social Security?

A: Social Security is taxes that an individual pays into the Social Security System while a person works. When the person retires, becomes disabled, or dies, then the Claimant, her or his spouse, her or his dependent children, and her or his survivors may be entitled to receive monthly benefits based upon the Claimant’s earnings while working and paying into the Social Security System.

Q: What is a Spouse?

A: A Spouse is the person to whom the Claimant is legally married at the time the Claimant applies for benefits.

Q: What is Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)?

A: SGA is the ability to earn wages.

Q: What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

A: SSI is a Federal Supplemental Program designed to assist the aging, disabled, and the blind who have little or no income.

Q: What are Survivor Benefits?

A: Survivor Benefits are benefits that are paid if a Claimant dies and are paid to:

  1. The Claimant’s Spouse if she or he is age 60 or older, or 50 or older is there is a Disability rather than a Death, or at any age if the Spouse is caring for a child under the age of 16.
  2. A Child or Children age 18 or younger, or 19 or younger if still in school.
  3. A Parent or Parents if the Claimant provided at least one-half (1/2) of their support.

Q: What is a Wage Earner?

A: A Wage Earner is the person who earns Social Security Credits while working for wages or self-employment income.

Q: What are Wages?

A: Wages are all payments paid by an employer for services performed by an employee, and include the cash value of all compensation paid to an employee in any form other than cash unless the form of payment is not covered under the Social Security Act.

Q: What are Work Credits?

A: Work Credits are earned based upon the number of years that a person has worked and how recently that work was performed by that person. To be eligible for Social Security Disability payments, a Disabled Person must have earned a sufficient amount of work credits to qualify.

Additional Information

  1. Frequently Asked Questions
  2. Working While Disabled - How We Can Help
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  14. Retirement Estimator
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  17. U.S. Department of Labor - Office of Disability Employment Policy
  18. What’s New with Guides to Information Answer Frequently Asked Questions for People with Disabilities
  19. Official Social Security Website - Public Service Announcements for Radio
  20. OIG - Social Security Administration
  21. Same-Sex Couples
  22. Compassionate Allowances
  23. Disability Appeal
  24. Hearings and Appeals
  25. Your Right To Question A Decision Made On Your Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Claim
  26. Your Right To An Administrative Law Judge Hearing And Appeals Council Review Of Your Social Security Case
  27. Your Right To Representation
  28. Office of Research, Demonstration, and Employment Support
  29. Apply for Disability Benefits - Child (Under Age 18)
  30. Appeal A Decision
  31. The Appeals Process
  32. Your Right To Question The Decision Made On Your Claim
  33. The Red Book - A Guide to Work Incentives
  34. Glossary of Social Security Terms
  35. The Social Security Website
  36. Social Security Website Policies & Other Important Information
  37. The Facts About Social Security's Disability Program
  38. What You Should Know Before You Apply for SSI Disability Benefits for a Child
  39. Checklist – Childhood Disability Interview
  40. Medical and School Worksheet - Child
  41. Accessibility Help
  42. Adult Disability Starter Kit
  43. What You Should Know Before You Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits
  44. Checklist – Adult Disability Interview
  45. Medical and Job Worksheet - Adult