The Social Security Administration (SSA) has created a list of medical conditions or "impairments" (called the Blue Book) that it considers serious enough to automatically be disabling. The SSA uses the listings in 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 your medical records to decide whether your impairment meets the requirements of a disability listing found in the Blue Book (also known as the Listing of Impairments). If you meet the requirements, you'll 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 medical conditions.
It's helpful for your disability claim to become familiar with the disability listings included in the Blue Book. Social Security's website includes the entire Blue Book listing of impairments.
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'll generally need to show that your impairment will last for at least 12 months (or for the duration specified in the Blue Book, if different) and that you meet all the given medical requirements for the listing.
Almost all the listings in the Blue Book require objective (observable) medical data and test results to prove you meet the listing. Social Security places great emphasis on the existence of laboratory findings such as X-rays, MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging), blood tests, exercise tests, and psychological tests when reviewing your disability claim.
The Blue Book also includes medical requirements that can't be measured scientifically. For example, with most mental impairments, you'll need to provide evidence of "marked" (severe) limitations in the areas of:
You'll need to show that your condition significantly interferes with your ability to function—making it impossible for you to work full-time. But the definitions aren't precise, and therefore leave 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. This includes notes from your doctor and other healthcare providers with whom you have an ongoing relationship or a doctor/psychiatrist who performs a one-time consultative examination (CE).
The SSA will want to know whether the doctor whose notes are in your medical records performed physical or mental examinations, if that doctor believes you have severe limitations, and why. Generally, if the doctor relies solely on your personal opinions of how you feel, the SSA will find that the doctor's opinion isn't supported well enough to be accepted as true. It must be backed up with medical evidence.
Quite often medical experts will disagree with each other on whether you meet a listing. If this happens, and the SSA denies your disability claim, you can and should appeal the denial.
When you don't meet all of the medical criteria specified in a disability listing, you still could argue that you're disabled based on medical "equivalence." You'll 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.
At the initial application stage, the SSA's medical and psychological consultants will review your disability claim and give an opinion as to whether your medical condition meets or equals a listing. This is the first step in the SSA disability process, where it's common for claims to be denied. If your claim is denied at this stage, you should appeal.
At the disability appeal hearing level, an administrative law judge (ALJ) will decide if your impairment equals a listing or if you qualify for a medical-vocational allowance. You'll want to consult with a disability attorney to prepare your case ahead of the ALJ hearing.
If your condition meets or equals a disability listing in the SSA's Blue Book and you meet the non-medical requirements for benefits, you'll automatically qualify for disability. Find out if your condition meets the severity requirements of a Blue Book listing.