Administrative Law Judge
an appointed official who presides at a formal hearing to resolve a dispute involving a governmental agency. The Social Security Administration has by far the largest number of ALJs of any government agency.

ALJ
an abbreviation for Administrative Law Judge

CE
an abbreviation for Consultative Examination.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
a common and serious lung disease that can be used to describe multiple conditions including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD makes it hard to empty air out of the lungs and can lead to shortness of breath and tiredness.

Claimant
an individual making a claim or filing for benefits.

COLA
an abbreviation for Cost of Living Adjustment

Compassionate Allowances
a list of conditions used by the Social Security Administration to identify applicants with conditions that are so serious that they clearly meet the standards for disability. There are currently 225 compassionate allowance conditions with the newest set of conditions added to the list on January 15, 2014.

Consultative Examination
medical examination by an independent physician (contracted to perform such services for the SSA) which can be ordered by Social Security during the disability claim process.

COPD
an abbreviation for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Cost of Living Adjustment
Social Security’s annual benefit increases based on a government measure of inflation. The COLA is calculated by comparing consumer prices in July, August and September each year to prices in the same three months from the previous year.

Disability
an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.

Elimination Period
the amount of time an individual must be disabled under a disability insurance policy after filing the claim and prior to receiving benefits. Many policies have a 90-day elimination period, but other periods do exist. An applicant does not get any benefits for the duration of the elimination period, even though he/she is disabled.

Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974
a federal law that protects employer-provided benefits, including health insurance, disabilty insurance, life insurance, retirement, and pensions, and sets minimum standards for those who administer the plans. ERISA was passed in 1974 and does not apply to government employees or to policies independently purchased by the employee. Because ERISA is a federal law, any dispute with an employer-provided long-term disabilty insurer will be heard in federal (not state) court.

ERISA
an abbreviation for Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

Federal Insurance Contributions Act
A U.S. law requiring 12.4% of earned income up to an annual limit ($113,700 for 2013) must be paid into Social Security, and an additional 2.9% must be paid into Medicare. If you are a wage or salaried employee, you pay half of this and your employer contributes the other half.

FICA
an abbreviation for Federal Insurance Contributions Act.

Long Term Disability
an illness or injury which causes an employee to be incapable of performing the essential duties of his/her job for an extended period of time.

Long Term Disability Insurance
pays an insured employee a portion of his/her monthly earnings if he/she is incapable of performing the essential duties of his/her job due to an illness or injury.

LTD
an abbreviation for Long Term Disability and Long Term Disability Insurance.

Material Duty
a subjective task specific to a particular occupation. For example, a salesperson must have the ability to communicate with prospective client. If this subjective task (“communicate”) is removed from the job description, the description would no longer describe a salesperson.

Office of Disability Adjudication and Review
an administrative office of the Social Security Administration which holds hearings and issues decisions to determine whether or not a person qualifies to receive benefits. The ODAR schedules and manages the disability hearings for applicants who are appealing a denial of their initial Social Security Disability claim. The ODAR is also in charge of reviewing claimants’ appeals of decisions made by administrative law judges as a result of their disability hearing.

ODAR
an abbreviation for Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.

Onset Date
the first day a employee is unable to work because of his/her disability. The onset date may or may not be the same as the date of diagnosis. Applicants typically use the date they last worked as the date of onset. However, depending on the circumstances and the medical support the onset date could be after the date last worked.

Residual Functional Capacity
an evaluation of a disabled claimant’s remaining ability to do things (work) after taking into account all of the limitations his/her severe medical conditions cause. RFC is the most applicants can still do despite their limitations.

RFC
an abbreviation for Residual Functional Capacity.

Social Security Administration
an independent agency of the United States federal government that administers Social Security, a social insurance program consisting of retirement, disability, and survivors’ benefits.

SSA
an abbreviation for Social Security Administration.

Social Security Disability Insurance
a federal insurance program of the US government funded by payroll taxes. SSDI pays monthly benefits to people who are unable to work due to serious injury or illness that is expected to last more than a year or result in death. SSDI is managed by the Social Security Administration.

SSDI
an abbreviation for Social Security Disability Insurance.

Substantial duty
an objective task required for the completion of a specific occupation in the course of an 8-hour day. For example, if one is a process operator, substantial duties may include sitting for 40% of the time and standing for 60% of the time.

Vocational Expert
specializes in employment placement and occupational requirements. The VE testifies at a disability hearing as to what occupations are available to the claimant given his/her disability and skills.

VE
an abbreviation for Vocational Expert.