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What is the Social Security blue book?

The Blue Book, formally titled Disability Evaluation Under Social Security, lists impairments the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers severe enough to prevent someone from working and lays out the medical criteria for determining if that person can receive disability benefits.

Formerly printed and bound but now published solely online, the Blue Book is a critical tool for Social Security examiners who weigh applications for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the two disability benefit programs the SSA administers, and for medical professionals who furnish evidence to support patients’ disability claims.

If a condition is in the Blue Book, it inherently meets SSA's definition of disability: An illness or injury that prevents you from performing "substantial gainful activity" (Social Security–speak for most paying work) for at least a year or that will likely result in your death. For children, who can receive SSI, the test is not work-related but rather whether a condition causes “marked and severe functional limitations."

Simply being diagnosed with a listed condition does not automatically qualify you for SSDI or SSI. The Blue Book spells out in detail the symptoms, test results or other data that show your condition is acute enough to be genuinely disabling in the agency's eyes and the records you must produce to prove it.

As part of its disability-determination process, SSA examiners review your evidence against the Blue Book listing to see if you meet the requirements. If you do, that's usually sufficient for your claim to be approved. But it isn't necessarily disqualifying if you don't. (See “Keep in mind" below.)

The Blue Book has three main chapters:

  • Part I — General Information broadly describes the disability benefit programs and Social Security's procedures for assessing claims, including the role of medical experts and professionals.
  • Part II — Evidentiary Requirements runs down the kinds of paperwork, examinations and other evidence officials use to make those assessments.
  • Part III — Listing of Impairments details the conditions or families of related conditions that meet the disability standard in adults (Part A) and children (Part B) and the evidence that officials weigh in evaluating claims based on them, broken down by types of disorders or affected bodily systems, such as respiratory illnesses, neurological disorders, hearing and vision loss, etc.

The listings are written for health care professionals. The medical requirements are stringent and specific, and the language is often dense and complicated. But the Blue Book can be a valuable reference to help you and your doctors in determining if you meet the requirements to receive disability benefits and preparing your application.

Keep in mind

You still can receive SSDI or SSI if your condition isn't specified in the Blue Book or if it is but you don't fully meet the listed requirements. An examiner may determine that your impairment or a combination of impairments “equals the listings” in severity and effect on your ability to work. But the approval process will have additional steps and take longer.

Published March 24, 2021

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