The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses what is known as the Blue Book — or the “Listing of Impairments” — in making determinations about whether someone’s disability prevents him or her from working. This determination is the third step in a five-step evaluation process. Your medical condition — whether it is physical or mental — is referred to by the SSA as an impairment, and if it reaches the level of requirements for one of the impairments listed in the Blue Book, you will be identified as disabled and will likely qualify for Social Security Disability.
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Our Social Security Disability Resource Guide has more information.
The Blue Book
You can find the SSA’s Blue Book on the administration’s website, and it breaks impairments down into Part A for adults who are 18 and older and Part B for children who are under the age of 18. To meet an impairment listing, you will generally need to demonstrate that your condition will last for at least 12 months — or another qualifying duration, as listed in the Blue Book. If you have a disability claim, it is helpful to better understand the basics when it comes to the Blue Book’s categorization system.
The Blue Book is divided into 14 basic categories (with a 15th reserved for children under the age of 3). These include:
- Musculoskeletal System — Our musculoskeletal systems — also known as our locomotor systems — allow us to move our bodies via our muscular and skeletal systems, which provide us with stability, form, support, and free movement. A musculoskeletal impairment or functional loss amounts to the inability to perform movements that are both fine and complex, such as effectively pushing, reaching, or pulling in a sustained manner. Common medical conditions that can qualify as such an impairment include arthritis, degenerative disc disease, scoliosis, and fibromyalgia.
- Special Senses and Speech — Our special senses and speech, in this capacity, refer to our ability to see, hear, and speak. Impairments generally involve blindness, deafness, and the inability to speak. There are several tests available that help identify those individuals who are classified under this impairment. Conditions that cause vertigo are also included under this classification, and macular degeneration and Meniere’s disease are common conditions under this category.
- Respiratory Disorders — Our respiratory systems — also known as our ventilatory systems — refer to the organs that assist us in our breathing. Respiratory system impairments originate from respiratory disorders that are diagnosed according to symptoms, physical indicators, and abnormalities in laboratory tests. Conditions that are frequently categorized under this system include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and sleep apnea.
- Cardiovascular System — Our cardiovascular systems — also known as our circulatory systems — allow our blood to circulate oxygen and nutrients throughout our bodies. Any disease that affects the heart or the circulatory system’s proper functioning falls under this category. Conditions that are commonly associated include high blood pressure, ventricular dysfunction, coronary artery disease, and chronic heart failure.
- Digestive System — Our digestive systems allow our bodies to break down food into the nutrients that help us stay healthy. Digestive system impairments are often very painful and can lead to secondary complications. Common ailments in this category include inflammatory bowel disease, gastrointestinal hemorrhage, and malnutrition.
- Genitourinary Disorders — Our genitourinary systems include our reproductive organs and our urinary systems, which means the bladder, the reproductive organs, and the kidneys. Common diseases that qualify under this system include interstitial cystitis, kidney diseases, and some forms of nephropathy.
- Hematological Disorders – Our hematological systems are made up of our blood, liver, spleen, and bone marrow. Hematologic disorders primarily affect the bloodstream. The SSA is exceedingly strict within this category and only acknowledges those disorders that are persistent, that have lasted at least three months, and that seriously impact the patient’s life. Commonly associated conditions include chronic thrombocytopenia, chronic anemia, and sickle cell disease.
- Skin Disorders — Our skin is also known as our integumentary system, and it acts as a barrier between our bodies and the external environment. Because most skin conditions have ready treatments available, the SSA carefully reviews all potential factors in their assessment of skin disorders, including frequency of flare-ups, onset and duration, stress factors, familial incidence, history of exposure to toxins, and variations related to the seasons. Covered impairments can include Ichthyosis, dermatitis, malignant skin tumors, hidradenitis, burns, shingles, chronic infections of mucous membranes, and cellulitis.
- Endocrine Disorders — Our endocrine systems involve the collection of glands that secrete hormones directly into our circulatory systems — to be delivered to target organs throughout our bodies. Impairments to our endocrine systems typically involve hormonal imbalances that can result in major gland complications. Conditions that are commonly associated with the endocrine system include arrhythmia, diabetes, pancreatitis, weight loss or gain, and imbalances in the pituitary, thyroid, and/or adrenal glands.
- Congenital Disorders that Affect Multiple Body Systems — Some congenital disorders affect multiple systems in our bodies, and these are classified into two distinct categories, Down’s Syndrome and all other such conditions. Down’s Syndrome affects chromosome 21 in every cell of the patient’s body and can impair vision, hearing, and more. Other multiple system conditions include congenital disorders that cause the body to function abnormally or to interrupt the body’s development. Examples include Fragile X syndrome and Caudal Regression syndrome.
- Neurological Disorders — Our nervous systems control all the bodily transmissions that coordinate our actions and movements. Neurological diseases can directly affect the brain, nerves, and or the spinal cord, and more than 600 such diseases are recognized. Common impairments include speech difficulties; breathing problems; the inability to learn normally or to move properly; and problems with one’s memory, mood, and/or senses. Examples include epilepsy, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), Cerebral Palsy, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.
- Mental Disorders — A mental disorder refers to a mental illness or psychiatric disorder and relates to a pattern of and/or anomalous thoughts and behaviors that cause the sufferer to be impaired in his or her ability to function in everyday life within developmental and societal norms. Mental disorders are typically identified by a combination of factors that include how the individual acts, thinks, perceives the world around him or her, and feels. There are nine diagnostic categories that range from depressive disorders to schizophrenia. Commonly associated conditions include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and autism.
- Cancer (Malignant Neoplastic Diseases) — A neoplasm refers to abnormal tissue growth, and when that growth forms a mass, it’s known as a tumor. The SSA defines this category as including malignant tumors — those that spread to other areas of the body (such as many forms of cancer do). Commonly accepted diagnoses within this category include lymphoma, leukemia, and breast, liver, and lung cancers.
- Immune System Disorders — Our immune systems refer to the biological structures and processes that protect us from disease. To work properly, our immune systems must be able to adequately detect pathogens that range from viruses to parasites and to correctly distinguish them from our own healthy tissues. Any immune system impairment can lead to serious health consequences. Conditions that are commonly associated with this category include Lupus, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
- Low Birth Weight and Failure to Thrive — Low birth weight and failure to thrive only pertain to Part B of the Blue Book, and they are only associated with children who are not yet three. Low birth weight (LBW) refers to infants who are born weighing less than 5 pounds 8 ounces and who, therefore, are at higher risk of developing certain diseases and of experiencing inhibited development. Failure to thrive (FTT) refers to when a young child does not gain sufficient weight or exhibits inappropriate weight loss for any number of physical, medical, and/or psychosocial reasons. It can also be the result of overly restrictive calorie intake.
The SSA relies heavily on evidence in determining whether your condition qualifies as an impairment, and they are looking for objective (or observable) medical data that comes directly from your medical records. As such, the SSA emphasizes the necessity of having laboratory findings like X-rays, MRIs, exercise tests, chemical analysis, psychological tests, and more. In other words, proving your impairment can be an uphill battle without the professional legal counsel of an experienced Social Security Disability attorney on your side.
If You Have Social Security Disability Concerns, a Knowledgeable Social Security Disability Attorney Can Help
Going on Social Security Disability is notoriously difficult, but an experienced Social Security Disability attorney can help you cut through the red tape and obtain the services to which you are entitled. The Social Security Disability attorneys at Joyce & Bary Law are committed to helping you throughout the application process, every step of the way. Our dedicated legal team is on your side, so please do not hesitate to contact us for more information today.