The SSA Blue Book is a resource that lists conditions that qualify for disability benefits. This document is a helpful starting point if you plan to apply for SSDI or SSI — but it can also be confusing to navigate, and it doesn’t include every condition that’s eligible.
Here, we’ll decode the SSA Blue Book — what it is, which conditions it includes, and how to use it to guide your disability application.
What is the SSA Blue Book?
The Blue Book is a nickname for a document created by the SSA. Its official title is Disability Evaluation Under Social Security.
The Social Security Disability Blue Book informs medical professionals of how the SSA’s disability criteria work. It includes a “Listing of Impairments” that covers the conditions that qualify for SSDI and SSI.
These listings explain one way the SSA defines your medical eligibility for benefits. Each listing includes information on health records or tests that help prove your condition is sufficiently disabling.
The Blue Book contains many different conditions, ranging from epilepsy to kidney disease to obsessive-compulsive disorders and more. However, the SSA is slow to update the Blue Book, so it doesn’t cover every condition that qualifies for disability. For example, “long COVID” is not in the Blue Book even though it can qualify for disability.
If you would like to access the Social Security Blue Book for yourself, keep in mind that it is a web-only document. There is not a downloadable version, such as an SSA Blue Book PDF.
In addition to the Blue Book, the SSA also has a resource called the Red Book. This book (which is available on the web, as a PDF, or as a printed book) provides information about income requirements and employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
What’s included in the SSA Blue Book?
The Blue Book contains three parts:
- General Information
- Evidentiary Requirements (the eligibility criteria SSA is looking for throughout the disability application process)
- Listing of Impairments (divided into Part A: Adult Listings and Part B: Childhood Listings)
In most cases, people who read the Blue Book are looking for the third section — the Listing of Impairments, which lists the conditions that are eligible for disability benefits. Both Part A and Part B of this section are similar: They provide a list of conditions and state the qualification requirements for each one.
How to use the Blue Book
If you’re wondering whether your condition will qualify for disability benefits, the Social Security Blue Book can be a helpful place to start. Remember, the SSA considers each disability application on a case-by-case basis — but the Blue Book is still a good resource for disability applicants. Below, take a look at the Blue Book chapter by chapter (using Part A, Adult Listings).
#1. Musculoskeletal Disorders
Musculoskeletal disorders affect the bones, joints, muscles, and connective tissues. They commonly cause widespread pain and loss of function. Orthopedic conditions are often evaluated here, too.
You might fall into this category of the Blue Book if you live with pain and limited mobility that prevents you from performing basic daily tasks (or makes those tasks difficult). Struggling to walk; stand; sit; or pick up or lift items makes it very hard to find a job that will work for you.
#2. Special Senses and Speech
Sense and speech disorders that qualify for disability include things like blindness or deafness. If you’re seeking disability for blindness or vision issues, you must meet the following criteria as defined by the SSA:
- “Central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of a correcting lens. We use your best-corrected central visual acuity for distance in the better eye when we determine if this definition is met.” AND
- “An eye that has a visual field limitation such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees is considered as having a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less.”
Applicants who are Deaf can either qualify for disability benefits for one year after getting cochlear implants; or submit medical records showing your results on audiometric tests and otologic exams.
Blindness and deafness aren’t the only conditions that are covered under this category. Less common or lesser-known issues — like an inability to speak coherently — fall under this heading, too.
#3. Respiratory Disorders
Respiratory conditions like asthma, cystic fibrosis, or sleep apnea can qualify you for disability if they prevent you from working. In general, applicants with respiratory disorders must meet at least some of the following criteria:
- You’ve been hospitalized recently.
- You are seeing a pulmonologist.
- You require the use of oxygen.
- You have testing that shows airflow obstruction.
- You’ve had recent respiratory failure.
Like many other conditions, respiratory disorders can often vary widely in severity from person to person. If you’re unsure whether your specific disorder will qualify, consult the Social Security Disability Blue Book further, or speak with a disability lawyer.
#4. Cardiovascular System
According to the SSA, a cardiovascular impairment affects the way your heart or your circulatory system functions. The circulatory system includes arteries, veins, capillaries, and lymphatic drainage. 6.8% of SSDI recipients are on disability due to a cardiovascular condition.
To qualify for disability based on a heart or circulatory issues, you’ll likely need to have at least one of the following:
- Central cyanosis
- Chronic heart failure or ventricular dysfunction
- Discomfort or pain due to myocardial ischemia
- Inadequate cardiac output
- Pulmonary vascular disease
- Syncope or near syncope
Plus, some or most of the following likely need to apply to you:
- You seek regular treatment from a cardiologist.
- You become winded or suffer from breathlessness after any activity.
- You experience leg swelling.
- You experience lightheadedness, chest pain, palpitation, or fatigue.
- You’ve undergone a stress test, ECG, or angiogram — or your doctor says your condition is too severe to undergo a stress test.
- Your condition has not improved with medication.
#5. Digestive System
Disorders of the digestive system can be eligible for disability benefits when they are severe; difficult to treat; and prevent you from working a job.
Exact qualifications depend on your disease or condition. Your condition may need to cause complications such as bowel obstructions; cause symptoms in other systems of your body; or not respond to medical or surgical treatment.
#6. Genitourinary Disorders
1.7% of people receiving SSDI have a genital or urinary disorder. Chronic kidney disease is the most common example. If you are in renal failure and currently receive dialysis, you should automatically qualify for disability.
When it comes to genitourinary disorders, you’ll likely qualify for benefits if some or most of the following are true:
- You have exams, labs, and evaluation reports from the last 90 days.
- You’ve undergone a kidney or bone biopsy.
- You’ve received hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis.
- You’ve experienced fluid buildup.
- You’ve experienced excessive weight loss due to kidney disease.
- You’ve been hospitalized at least three times in the last 12 months, at least 30 days apart.
- You’ve received a kidney transplant.
#7. Hematological Disorders
Hematological disorders relate to blood and the organs that form blood. While a very small number of SSDI recipients have hematological disorders (0.3%), it is possible to qualify if you have accurate, up-to-date lab tests and other reports.
Your specific blood disorder may qualify if at least some of the following are true for you:
- You’ve been hospitalized at least three times within the last 12 months.
- You require RBC transfusions every six weeks.
- You have documented painful (vaso-occlusive) crises that require medication.
- Your complications (anemia, skin ulcers, pain, fatigue, etc.) limit your ability to complete tasks, function socially, or pursue the activities of daily living.
#8. Skin Disorders
Skin disorders are another less common category: While disorders with long-term flare-ups can qualify for SSDI, just 0.2% of total recipients have a skin condition. You might be eligible based on your skin condition if:
- You experience regular pain as the result of either your condition or your treatment.
- You have skin lesions in sensitive areas that prevent you from completing tasks (e.g. skin lesions on your hands that limit your fine motor skills, skin lesions on your feet that impact your ability to walk, skin lesions on your joints that limit your use of an extremity).
- Your skin condition impacts your other senses (e.g. facial lesions that prevent you from comfortably talking or chewing) or your mental health.
- Your flare-ups are frequent enough to prevent you from keeping a consistent work schedule.
#9. Endocrine Disorders
While diabetes is the most common endocrine disorder that qualifies for disability, other conditions are eligible, too — particularly if they cause symptoms or complications that affect additional systems of your body.
You’re likely to qualify for benefits if some of the following are true for you:
- You’re insulin-dependent.
- You experience neuropathy or brain fog.
- You suffer from open wounds or required amputation.
- You experience numbness or tingling in your feet or hands, or have lost sensation in a limb.
- You have vision problems (diabetic retinopathy).
- You have severe gastrointestinal problems, such as constipation and incontinence.
#10. Congenital Disorders That Affect Multiple Body Systems
Congenital disorders (present at or before birth) that affect multiple systems in your body can qualify for disability. According to the Social Security Blue Book, this section is primarily used to evaluate non-mosaic Down syndrome. The SSA uses lab reports signed by a physician to confirm that you have Down syndrome.
#11. Neurological Disorders
From stroke to epilepsy to neuropathy, neurological disorders span a wide range, but many of them qualify for disability benefits if they affect your ability to work. In fact, some neurological conditions qualify you automatically. Exact criteria vary based on the condition.
#12. Mental Disorders
Mental health conditions (the SSA uses the word “disorder” instead of condition) like depression or anxiety can qualify for disability benefits if your mental condition makes you unable to work. In fact, 34.6% of disability applicants have a mental disorder.
It can be tough to get on disability for mental illness alone. Often, applicants who succeed have a physical condition, too — such as PTSD paired with chronic pain, or anxiety and inflammatory bowel disease. Qualifying for disability benefits based on your mental health condition might be difficult because mental health symptoms vary widely and are hard to measure, leading some SSA examiners or judges to be skeptical. However, some applicants do manage to get disability benefits for their mental health condition. In this case, working with a disability lawyer is extremely helpful.
#13. Cancer (Malignant Neoplastic)
Having cancer can qualify you for disability. Certain types of cancer, including any cancer that is stage 4, may qualify for accelerated approval. Your cancer may qualify you for benefits if some of the following are true for you:
- You’ve had a biopsy or procedure to remove cancer.
- You receive ongoing treatment and have recent scans.
- You have an oncology team (like a specialist and radiologist).
- You experience long-lasting side-effects from treatment, such as chemo symptoms that last more than 12 months).
If you are in partial remission, but still struggling to work due to your symptoms, you should still apply for disability benefits.
#14. Immune System Disorders
Immune system disorders such as lupus, HIV/AIDS, and gout are eligible for SSDI. Symptoms and qualifications vary based on your exact condition, but you might qualify if:
- You have diagnostic testing to confirm your diagnosis (X-Rays, MRIs, CAT Scan).
- You experience fatigue, fevers, or involuntary weight loss.
- You have more than one organ affected by your condition.
- You suffer from a lack of mobility or movement in your joints.
- You seek treatment from a neurologist, rheumatologist, or infectious disease doctor.
What if my condition isn’t in the Blue Book?
If your specific condition isn’t in the Blue Book, don’t worry! You can still apply for disability benefits as long as:
- You meet the technical requirements (for SSDI, having earned enough work credits; be currently earning less than $1,470 per month; and be under 67 years old)
- You have medical evidence (that proves your condition prevents you from working)
Learn more in our step-by-step guide to applying for disability.
Get help filing for disability
Even if your condition is in the Blue Book, this is only the first step to applying for disability. Most disability applicants — even ones who meet the criteria for their condition — are rejected their first time applying. That’s where a lawyer can help.
You’re much more likely to win disability benefits if you work with a disability lawyer. A lawyer can help fill out your application and represent your case in court. They’ll be paid once you start getting disability checks.
Here at Atticus, we connect you with professional, experienced lawyers who can help you win disability. To learn more and get started with your disability application, take our two-minute quiz.