Disabilities Covered by Social Security Disability Benefits by Belle Wong, J.D.

Disabilities Covered by Social Security Disability Benefits

Learn how the Social Security Administration handles disability claims.

by Belle Wong, J.D.
updated November 24, 2020 · 4 min read

Suffering from a chronic medical condition that will impact your ability to work can be challenging. Not only are you faced with the prospect of unemployment, but there are also probably mounting medical bills to consider as well. How can you determine whether your disability qualifies for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits?

The Blue Book Listing of Impairments

You may have heard about the Social Security Administration’s blue book, a listing of medical conditions so severe they will automatically qualify an individual as being disabled for Social Security disability benefits purposes if he or she has a condition that either meets the criteria specified in a listing or is equivalent to such criteria. The impairments are listed in two parts: the Adult Listings and the Childhood Listings. The impairments include specific disorders or conditions affecting:

  • the musculoskeletal system
  • special senses and speech
  • the respiratory system
  • the cardiovascular system
  • the digestive system
  • genitourinary disorders (chronic kidney disease)
  • hematological disorders
  • skin disorders
  • endocrine disorders
  • congenital disorders affecting multiple body systems
  • neurological disorders
  • mental disorders
  • malignant neoplastic diseases
  • immune disorders

The listing of childhood impairments is very similar to the adult listings, but with the addition of conditions affecting growth impairment.

What If Your Condition Doesn't Match a Blue Book Impairment Listing?

Your Social Security disability eligibility doesn’t require that you meet or equal the criteria for an impairment listed in the blue book. If your condition is not among those in the impairment listings, you can still qualify if the Social Security Administration (SSA) decides that your medical condition is of equal severity to a condition on the list.

In fact, you may still qualify for Social Security disability benefits even if your condition doesn’t match one of the listed impairments, or hasn’t been determined to be of equal severity to one of the listed conditions.

In such cases, you could still be considered for benefits if the SSA determines that you meet its definition of disability.

What Is the SSA’s Definition of Disability?

It’s important to know that the SSA has a stricter definition of “disability” than what you might think a disability means. First, the SSA doesn’t consider partial disability or a short-term disability to qualify as a disability for which you may be eligible to receive SSD benefits. Your disability must be total for you to be considered for benefits.

To fit within the SSA’s definition of disability, you must be unable to work. You’ll be considered unable to work if you meet all of the following requirements:

  • you’re unable to do the work you did before you were diagnosed with your medical condition
  • you’re not able to do other types of work because of your medical condition
  • the condition with which you’ve been diagnosed is expected to last more than a year or is expected to result in death

Are There Other Social Security Disability Requirements?

In addition to meeting the SSA’s definition of disability, you also must show that you’ve worked for long enough, and recently enough, to qualify for disability benefits.

To determine that you’ve met these requirements, you’ll need to meet two different earnings tests, a “recent work test,” which is based on the age at which you became disabled, and a “duration of work test” that shows you’ve worked for long enough to qualify for Social Security benefits.

When Should You Apply for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits?

If you’re suffering from a medical condition that either meets or is equivalent to an impairment listed in the SSA’s blue book, or you meet the SSA’s definition of disability, you should consider applying for SSDI benefits.

Unfortunately, the SSDI claims process can often be a long, and at times, difficult process, with no guarantees that you’ll be eligible for benefits.

There is often a lot of paperwork involved. One option you may want to consider is obtaining a disability benefits evaluation, which would help you determine your Social Security disability status and help you through the claims process if you are eligible to apply.

A diagnosis of a chronic medical condition that stops you from working can have significantly negative consequences on your life. It’s worthwhile considering whether you’re eligible for SSDI benefits, as they can be an important safety net if you have a long-term disability.

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Belle Wong, J.D.

About the Author

Belle Wong, J.D.

Belle Wong, J.D., is a freelance writer specializing in small business, personal finance, and marketing topics. Connect … Read more