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List of Impairments for Social Security Disability and SSI Benefits
The Social Security Administration (SSA) publishes a list of impairments, titled “Disability Evaluation under Social Security.” For decades it was available solely in printed form and was used in the disability determination process as a primary reference source for guiding the outcome of many claims by the disability examiners who evaluate disability claims and appeals, the doctors who work for the state disability agency (known in most states as DDS, or disability determination services), as well as by the administrative law judges (ALJs) who decide hearing level appeals.
You may have heard Disability Evaluation under Social Security referred to as the “blue book.” Historically, this became the case simply because the cover of the printed version was always blue. Disability examiners, judges, and attorneys, however, generally refer to it simply as the listings.
What are the listings?
The listings are the approval criteria for a number of physical and mental impairments. If a claimant's medical records provide the information designated for a specific listing (for example, cerebral palsy, seizure disorder, bipolar disorder, or a disorder of the spine), they will be approved on the basis of "meeting or equaling the requirements of a listing".
Being approved on the basis of satisfying a listing carries with it the implied notion that an individual can no longer work and earn a substantial and gainful income (known as SGA, or substantial gainful activity). However, having said this, if an individual is working at the time that they file for disability, or begins working during the time their case is being decided, or goes back to work after they have been awarded disability benefits and their gross monthly income exceeds the limit set for SGA earnings, then they will no longer be considered eligible to receive disability benefits. This will be the case regardless of whether or not their medical records are in alignment with the requirements of a listing.
The blue book contains descriptions, or listings, of over 100 medical physical or mental impairments recognized by the SSA to be potentially “disabling,” and which may prevent an individual from working. Listings in the blue book are separated by category such as musculoskeletal, immune, special senses, cardiovascular, hemic-lymphatic, neurological, multiple body, skin, digestive, genitor-urinary, respiratory, endocrine, and neoplastic.
What if my condition is not in the listing book
To some extent, the Listing of Impairments is in place to ensure that state disability examiners are using the same set of criteria to evaluate claims, and that there is uniformity in the disability determination process; i.e., you should not be denied benefits for a condition of a certain severity level in Texas that might be approved in California or Virginia. It also exists to provide definitions for terms and concepts that apply to the process, again to provide uniformity for what is a national program.
If the condition you have does not have a listing in the blue book, can you still be approved for disability benefits? Yes, many medical conditions commonly recognized today are not listed, including carpal tunnel, chronic fatigue, and fibromyalgia. And, in actuality, the majority of disability applicants who receive disability benefits are awarded for conditions not specifically listed in the blue book. How are these approvals made? They are awarded on the basis of whether or not the claimant can engage in work activity.
These types of approvals are known as medical vocational allowances and they involve an evaluation of a claimant's work history (the types of jobs they have held and the physical and mental requirements of each job as it was specifically performed by the individual) as well as an evaluation of the claimant's medical history.
Once the claimant's individual jobs have been identified (from the past 15 years, what Social Security considers to be the relevant work period), these jobs, and their requirements, are compared to the current physical and/or mental limitations possessed by the claimant as a result of their condition or conditions.
These limitations are collectively referred to as the claimant's RFC, or residual functional capacity. If the claimant's limitations are severe enough that they cannot perform the requirements of the jobs they have previously held (see past work ), and their limitations also exceed the requirements of any other types of work that their skills and training might enable them to switch to, then they will be approved on the basis of a medical vocational allowance.
Note: the minimum threshold for a medical vocational allowance is that a claimant must, as a result of the limitations caused by their impairment(s), be unable to engage in work activity that earns a substantial and gainful income for a period of not less than one year. Translation: your disabling condition must have either lasted, or be projected to last (based on the medical evidence), for a full year in order to meet the Social Security Administration's requirements for disability benefits.
Return to: Social Security Disability Resource Center, or read answers to Questions
Information on the following topics can be found here: Social Security Disability Questions and in these subsections:
Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits | FAQ on Disability Claim Representation | Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved | FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions | The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration | Disability hearings before Judges | Medical exams for disability claims | Applying for Disability in various states | Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers | Applying for Disability in North Carolina | Recent articles and answers to questions about SSD and SSI
These pages answer some of the most basic questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim.
Filing for disability - How to file for SSD or SSI and the Information that is needed by Social Security
How to Apply for Disability - What medical conditions can you apply and qualify for?
Applying for Disability - How long does it take to get Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?
What happens if I file a disability application and it is denied by a disability examiner or Judge?
How to Prove you are disabled and qualify to win disability benefits
How do you prove your disability case if you have a mental condition or impairment?
Social Security Disability Back pay and How Long it Takes to Qualify for it and receive it
Social Security Disability SSI - Eligibility Requirements and Qualifications Criteria