The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses the Blue Book to determine whether someone has a disability that prevents them from working. At step three of the five-part disability evaluation process, the SSA reviews an applicant's medical records to decide whether his or her medical condition (called an “impairment”) meets the requirements of a disability listing found in the Blue Book (also known as the Listing of Impairments). If so, the applicant will be found disabled.
The Blue Book covers both physical and mental impairments, and it discusses many serious diseases that can be disabling. Part A (for adults age 18 and over) and Part B (for children under age 18) each have 14 categories of disability listings.
The Blue Book is located online at the SSA’s website, and it can be found by searching for the terms “Blue Book” or “Listing of Impairments.”
It could be helpful for your disability claim to acquaint yourself with the disability listings referenced in the Blue Book. For Part A, Adult Listings, some of the most commonly used listings include:
For Part B, Child Listings, some of the most commonly used listings include:
To meet the listings, you will generally need to show that your impairment will last for at least 12 months (or for the duration specified in the Blue Book), and that you meet all the given medical requirements for your impairment.
Almost all the listings in the Blue Book require proof of objective (observable) medical data. The SSA places great emphasis on the existence of laboratory findings such as x-rays, MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging), chemical analysis, exercise tests, and psychological tests when reviewing your disability claim.
There are also medical requirements in the Blue Book that cannot be measured scientifically. For example, with most mental impairments, you will need to provide evidence of “marked” limitations in the areas of interactions with others, daily tasks, and/or sustaining focus. The term “marked” generally means severe; that you have a significant interference with your ability to function. This type of definition is not precise, and therefore leaves some wiggle room when arguing whether you meet a disability listing.
To determine whether you have significant problems with your daily functioning, the SSA will rely heavily on the medical chart notes from your treating doctor (a doctor with whom you have an ongoing relationship) or an examining doctor (a doctor who performed a one-time examination). The SSA will want to know whether the doctor performed physical or mental examinations and, if that doctor's opinion is that you are disabled, why. Generally, if the doctor relies solely on your personal opinions of how you feel, the SSA will find that the doctor’s opinion is not well enough supported to be fully believed as true.
Quite often you might have medical experts disagree with each other on whether you meet a listing. If this occurs, and your disability claim is denied, you should appeal the denial. You should also contact an attorney if your case is nearing the hearing level stage before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
When you do not meet all of the medical criteria specified in a disability listing, you still could argue that you are disabled based on medical "equivalence." You will need to prove that your impairment has the same level of severity and lasts as long as a particular Blue Book listing, even though it doesn't match the criteria exactly.
The SSA employs medical and psychological consultants to review disability claims and provide an opinion as to whether your medical condition meets or equals a listing. These consultants' opinions regarding equivalence rule at the initial application stage and the first level of review, while an ALJ makes the decision for equivalence at the hearing level.
To find out if your condition meets the severity requirements of a Blue Book listing, see our topic area that covers getting disability for various medical conditions.