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Terms to Know When Applying for Disability Benefits

December 31, 2021 Disability

If you are applying for Social Security disability benefits without much prior exposure to the Social Security disability program, you are probably hearing a lot of terms with which you are unfamiliar. And that is understandable. For the uninitiated, the Social Security disability program involves a bewildering array of terms of art that they must learn on the fly and that can have serious effects on the outcome of their claims. Before beginning the Social Security disability application process, make sure you understand the following important terms, as explained by a Baltimore SSD attorney


The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a very strict definition of the term “disability.” For the SSA, a disability is a condition that is (a) severe, (b) prevents you from doing your past relevant work, (c) prevents you from doing any other kind of work, and (d) is expected to last at least 12 months or result in death. 

Work Credits 

Applicants for disability benefits must have worked for a certain number of years before they become eligible for benefits. The amount of work any applicant needs is known as “work credits” and is based on the applicant’s age when he or she applies. For example, applicants aged 24-31 would generally need to have worked half the time between age 21 and the age at which they became disabled. Applicants over the age of 30 would generally need at least 20 credits in the 10-year period immediately before they became disabled. 

Substantial Gainful Activity 

To be eligible for Social Security disability benefits, an applicant must not be able to do the work he or she did previously or be able to engage in any other work. This is known as “Substantial Gainful Activity” (SGA) and is generally measured as an income ceiling. An applicant who is capable of engaging in SGA will not qualify for disability benefits. 

Blue Book 

The Blue Book is the SSA’s official listing of impairments. These are the impairments that the agency considers severe enough to prevent an applicant from working. To qualify for disability benefits, an applicant must show that his or her condition meets the standards listed in the Blue Book. 

Compassionate Allowance 

The disability application process is lengthy, which can present a problem for applicants who suffer extremely serious or terminal conditions. A “compassionate allowance” is a way for the SSA to quickly identify certain conditions that qualify a claim for expedited processing. A list of compassionate allowances can be found here

Consultative Examination 

Applicants for disability benefits are required to prove, using medical evidence, that they suffer a qualifying illness. While most applicants submit medical records from their own doctors, occasionally that evidence is not sufficient to allow the SSA to make a determination. In that case, the SSA will request that the applicant undergo an additional medical examination (a “consultative examination”) to gather additional information. 

Contact a Baltimore SSD Attorney for Help with Your Disability Claim

The Social Security disability application process can be confusing, but you don’t have to do it alone. For help with your application, please contact Baltimore SSD attorney Emmett B. Irwin by calling 443-839-0818 or using our online contact form.