If you are applying for Social Security disability benefits, your claim will be evaluated under Social Security’s 5-step Sequential evaluation process. Step Three of this process considers whether your condition(s) meets or medically equals one of the designated Listing of Impairments. The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses this expansive document to determine whether a claimant is disabled. It is important to understand this part of the qualification process and how it will affect your request for disability payments. The attorneys of Disability Law Group are well-versed in the Listing of Impairments and can help prepare your Social Security disability application with these critical steps in mind.
What Is The List Of Impairments?
Quite simply, the Listing of Impairments is a detailed list of health conditions that the SSA uses to evaluate your claim for a qualifying disability. It describes, for each major system in the human body, impairments that are considered severe enough to keep an individual from engaging in any productive activity. Depending on the evaluation of impairments under the Listings, SSA will then determine whether they need to go on to evaluate the applicant’s ability to work at Steps 4 and 5 of the evaluation process. For children under the age of 18, there are separate listings that apply based on specific conditions that will cause marked and severe functional limitations in the child.
The Listing – or Blue Book – covers physical, cognitive and mental ailments. The Blue Book is divided into Part A (medical criteria to evaluate the conditions of adult applicants, age 18 and up) and Part B (criteria to evaluate the conditions of child applicants).
If you have a condition that matches one of the listed impairments and the accompanying factors, you will likely be approved for disability benefits. However, the absence of one of the conditions does not mean your application will be denied, though it will require the SSA adjudicator to use other criteria to evaluate your claimed disability.
What Impairments Are Covered in The Blue Book?
Parts A and B of the Blue Book are further divided into sections that cover major parts of the body. There are 14 sections for both children and adults, plus one extra section just for children. They are:
- Low birth weight and failure to thrive (for children)
- Musculoskeletal system – including bones, spine, joints, fractures, amputations, soft tissue injuries
- Special senses and speech – including blindness, loss of speech, and hearing loss
- Respiratory disorders – including chronic respiratory disorder, asthma, cystic fibrosis, lung infections and transplants, and sleep-related breathing disorders
- Cardiovascular system – including high blood pressure, blood clots, heart failure, and heart disease
- Digestive system – including inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), hepatitis, liver problems and transplants, and Crohn’s disease
- Genitourinary disorders – including chronic kidney disease and nephrotic syndrome
- Hematological disorders – including chronic anemia, sickle cell disease, low blood platelets, and other blood problems
- Skin disorders – including ichthyosis, bullous disease, and chronic skin infections
- Endocrine disorders – including pituitary, thyroid, pancreatic, and other gland disorders
- Congenital disorders that affect multiple body systems – including non-mosaic Down syndrome and fetal alcohol syndrome
- Neurological disorders – including epilepsy, brain tumors, Parkinsonian syndrome, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and muscular dystrophy
- Mental disorders – including schizophrenia, psychotic disorders, autism, and other brain-related psychological or behavioral abnormalities
- Cancer (malignant neoplastic diseases) – including most forms of cancer
- Immune system disorders – including HIV, AIDS, and lupus
How Is The Listing of Impairments Used?
If you have a disability that you believe makes it impossible, or significantly difficult, for you to work, you can check the Blue Book to see if your condition will qualify you. According to the SSA: “the presence of an impairment that meets the criteria in the Listing of Impairments (or that is of equal severity) is usually sufficient to establish that an individual who is not working is disabled.”
Each condition has severity requirements, meaning it must be serious enough that the SSA believes it renders you incapable of working. There are also duration requirements: you must have had the condition for at least 12 months or it must be expected to last 12 months, or result in death. If your condition is included on the list, the next step is to evaluate the severity and duration criteria, among other complex requirements. An applicants treating doctor and/or specialist can help evaluate whether the specific criteria of each condition are met or medically equalled, and can help provide any required objective studies, laboratory tests or other evaluations required under the applicable listing.
Evidence must be presented to support your claim of a physical or mental condition. This may include X-rays, MRIs, chemical analyses, psychological tests, and more. Some impairments, especially mental ones, are more difficult to measure objectively, but will nonetheless require some degree of proof. Therefore, the most important piece of evidence is typically progress notes – that is, the regular visits you have with your provider to demonstrate that you are compliant with the treatment plan and your response to the prescribed medication or other treatment. For example, if you are regularly attending your scheduled visits and compliant with recommended therapy and/or medication(s), but are nevertheless experiencing serious symptoms that make it difficult for you to function day-to-day, much less work, these visit notes serve as evidence to prove your disability, and may even help to show your condition meets a listing.
What If My Condition Does Not Match The Listing of Impairments?
Not everyone meets the medical criteria specified in the Blue Book. In fact, most applicants are found to not meet a listing, however, you may be able to show that your condition is equivalent – or of equal severity – to a listed impairment. However, you will still need evidence that your impairment has the same severity and duration as a specific Blue Book listing. The SSA utilizes medical and psychological consultants who review disability claims to see if conditions match or are equivalent to Blue Book criteria. Nevertheless, it is recommended that applicants obtain and submit all evidence, especially reports from their own treating doctor(s) that could help prove a listing and, ultimately, support a finding of “disabled.”
How Can a Disability Lawyer Help Me?
The Social Security disability application process is itself complicated and subject to numerous procedural rules and evidentiary requirements. The quickest way to receive benefits is to demonstrate that your condition matches or equals one of the Blue Book’s listed impairments. Even if your condition comes short of meeting or medically equaling a designated listing, you still may qualify for benefits by showing that you are unable to work full-time in the case of an adult; child applicants whose conditions are not of listing-level severity may still be found disabled if their condition(s) are of qualifying severity. SSDI and/or SSI disability benefits can be a lifeline for many applicants, demanding the help and advice from an attorney.
At Disability Law Group, disability is all we do. Our attorneys and staff have the compassion and experience needed to know what documentation you will need and to put together a strong application. In the event that your claim is denied, you have the right to appeal the SSA’s decision. Our skilled Social Security attorneys understand the appeals process inside and out and we will fight to make sure that you receive the disability benefits you deserve.
Let Disability Law Group fight for you. Contact us today to schedule your consultation.