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How the SSA Blue Book is Used to Evaluate Impairments

SSA Blue Book

The SSA Blue Book is the best source of information regarding the SSA’s requirements and expectations for different impairments because when you apply for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, the SSA will want proof that your condition is severe enough to qualify you. If you’ve never used the Blue Book before, keep reading to learn more about what it includes, how you can use it while applying, and what it means if you don’t meet the criteria for your listing.

With the help of a disability benefits attorney, you can put your best foot forward when you submit your application. Call Dansby Law Firm at 334-326-6449 to set up a time to talk to our team.

An Overview of the SSA Blue Book

The SSA Blue Book is actually called the Listing of Impairments, but most people refer to it as the Blue Book. It’s divided into sections for impairments affecting adults and impairments affecting children. The listings are further broken down into different types of disorders. In the adult section, there are 14 categories ranging from musculoskeletal disorders and respiratory disorders to mental disorders and cancer. By looking at the body system affected by your disability, you can likely find your diagnosis.

Listings and Required Medical Evidence

Under each listing, the SSA outlines the specific criteria that you must meet in order for your diagnosis to be considered a disability. Requirements vary widely from diagnosis to diagnosis, but in general, they include medical records and specific functional limitations.

Let’s look at an example: mesothelioma, a common work-related illness. This is listed under Section 13, which covers various types of cancer. The specific listing is 13.15, pleura or mediastinum. Under this listing, the Blue Book states that an applicant must either have malignant mesothelioma of pleura, tumors of the mediastinum, or small-cell carcinoma. Those who have tumors of the mediastinum must have either metastases to or beyond the regional lymph nodes or persistent or recurring tumors following anticancer therapy. This listing is fairly short compared to some in the Blue Book.

Consider, for example, 12.04—the listing for depressive and bipolar disorders. For a person to qualify for disability benefits with a depressive disorder, they must have five or more of the following symptoms:

  • Depressed mood
  • Lack of interest in most activities
  • Appetite changes and weight changes
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • Decreased energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating
  • Thoughts of death or suicide


In addition, an applicant must have one extreme limitation or two marked limitations of the following:

  • Understanding, remembering, and applying information
  • Interacting with others
  • Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace
  • Adapting and managing oneself


When you have so many categories and concurrent requirements, it can be difficult to figure out whether or not you qualify.

What Happens When an Applicant’s Diagnosis Doesn’t Qualify?

If your condition isn’t listed or you don’t meet the qualifications for your listing, you still have options. Not every case fits into a neat and tidy box. In these cases, the SSA uses an RFC assessment to determine whether or not an applicant qualifies for disability benefits. A residual functional capacity assessment looks at an applicant’s ability to work. It accounts for their medical conditions, age, work history, and education.

Consider an individual with a disability listed in the Blue Book, but who does not meet the specific requirements listed. The SSA would look at their work history and education, as well as their medical evidence. Their assessment may find that the individual’s disability completely prevents them from doing their work duties, as well as the duties that would be required for any other work they could reasonably be expected to do. In this situation, they may approve the individual for benefits. If an applicant has medical documentation other than what is listed in the Blue Book, the SSA may use that to determine whether or not they should receive benefits.

Get Help with Your Disability Application with Dansby Law Firm

We know that applying for disability benefits can be overwhelming—and that’s why we’re here to help. Wherever you may be in the process, let’s talk about your next steps. Call us at 334-326-6449 or fill out our online contact form to discuss your case in greater detail.

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