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.

Here is a partial listing of mental and physical conditions that are listed (and organized under specific body systems) in the impairment listing manual:

  • Musculoskeletal conditions - Including degenerative disc disease, stenosis, scoliosis, osteoarthritis, fractures, and soft tissue injuries.
  • Special Senses and Speech disorders - Including Hearing deficits, speech pathology, and contraction of visual fields, and loss of visual acuity and efficiency.
  • Respiratory impairments - Incuding asthmatic illness, sleep apnea, emphysema.
  • Cardiovascular disorders - Including coronary artery disease, chronic heart disease, valvular defects, and arrhythmias.
  • Digestive System disorders- Including chronic liver disease, hepatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, gastrointestinal hemorrhaging, and liver transplantation.
  • Genitourinary System conditions - Including kidney disease and transplantation.
  • Hematological (blood) System conditions - Including polycythemia, anemia, and granulocytopenia.
  • Skin disorders - Including icthyosis and hidradenitis suppurtiva.
  • Endocrine disorders - Including hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
  • Multiple Body System conditions - Including down syndrome.
  • Neurological conditions - Including grand mal seizures, petit mal seizures, TBI, CVA, and ALS.
  • Mental impairments - Including depression, anxiety, panic attacks, loss of cognition, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, somatoform disorders, and austism.
  • Malignant Neoplastic conditions - Including cancers affecting all body systems.
  • Immune System disorders - Including lupus, scleroderma, sjogren's syndrome, and HIV, and inflammatory arthritis.

Go here to learn about conditions that are contained in the list of impairments, as well as those that are not: Disability list for Social Security condition and SSI.

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.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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