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What are the physical and mental disabilities that qualify me for Social Security Disability?

If you cannot work due to a physical or mental condition, you may be entitled to disability benefits. While the Social Security Administration (SSA) maintains a list of qualifying impairments, a number of other factors are considered in a benefits claim. The best way to obtain the benefits you deserve is to work with an experienced disability lawyer.

What is the Blue Book?

The SSA’s list of qualifying impairments is referred to as the “Blue Book” (Disability Evaluation Under Social Security). The list includes disability assessments for both physical and mental conditions, as well as specific requirements indicating when an impairment is considered a disability. If your condition is listed, you generally qualify for benefits as long as you meet the other eligibility requirements.

It is important to note that you may still be eligible for benefits if your condition is not on the list, as long as the SSA determines that it is medically equivalent to a listed condition. Given the complex eligibility requirements for obtaining disability benefits, it takes a skilled disability lawyer to protect your rights.

Physical Disabilities Under the SSA Guidelines

To meet the medical eligibility requirements for disability benefits, you must have a physical impairment that is expected to last up to one year or result in death. Physical disabilities listed in the SSA’s Blue Book include the following specific body systems and impairments:

  • Musculoskeletal
  • Special senses (vision/hearing)
  • Respiratory system
  • Cardiovascular system
  • Digestive system
  • Genitourinary system
  • Hematological (blood) system
  • Skin disorders
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Multiple body system conditions
  • Neurological conditions
  • Mental impairments
  • Malignant neoplastic conditions (body system cancers)
  • Autoimmune system disorders

While the list includes impairments for each body system, it is not possible to include every condition that may qualify as a disability. For this reason, the list contains guidelines for  disability examiners to use when determining whether a claimant’s condition is considered a disability.

What other factors are involved in a disability benefits claim?

Although disability examiners use the Blue Book and the accompanying guidelines to evaluate a claim, there are a number of other factors involved in a disability determination. First, your benefits claim must be supported by objective medical evidence including records of doctor’s visits, radiological tests (e.g. X-rays, CT and MRI scans), lab tests, strength and exercise tests. In addition, examiners will also consider the extent to which your physical condition limits your daily functioning by affecting walking, bending, or lifting.

Finally, there are also technical requirements that apply to disability benefits. Under the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, for example, you must have paid into the Social Security system and acquired enough work credits. To be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, however, you must be able to demonstrate financial need.

In any event, an experienced disability lawyer can work with you to make sure you have met all the technical and medical requirements for obtaining disability benefits.

Disability Benefits for Mental Impairments

Obtaining disability benefits for a mental illness can be challenging for a variety of reasons. In some cases, it may be difficult to evaluate the symptoms of a mental impairment. In others, the severity of a mental condition may not be fully understood. That being said, the SSA’s list of qualifying mental impairments covers:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Intellectual disorders
  • Autistic disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance abuse disorders

These conditions are only some of the cognitive, emotional, and mental disorders the SSA considers to be inherently disabling; there may be other mental impairments that prevent a claimant from performing substantial gainful activity (SGA).

What factors are involved in benefit determinations for mental conditions?

In addition to relying on the Blue Book, disability examiners will look at the clinical notes of mental health professionals. The examiners will also review questionnaires that must be submitted with the application. One of these is completed by third parties, typically friends of the claimant, about the individual’s condition and day-to-day routine; another is the claimant’s activities of daily living (ADL) questionnaire.

Ultimately, the criteria for evaluating mental illness is subjective, and there are few standardized tests to assess the severity of many mental conditions. In addition, if the mental impairment does not meet the SSA’s criteria, examiners will consider other factors, such as the claimant’s mental “residual functional capacity” (RFC). This is basically an assessment of the claimant’s ability to perform the same type of work that he/she used to, or any other work. In light of these challenges, obtaining disability benefits for a mental impairment requires the advice and guidance of an experienced disability lawyer.

The Bottom Line

Despite the fact that the SSA maintains a list of physical and mental impairments that are considered disabling, there are a number of factors involved in a disability determination. By working with an experienced disability lawyer, you will have peace of mind knowing that a dedicated advocate is in your corner, fighting for the benefits you need and deserve.

Attorney Profile: Kiel Roeschke

I have focused my practice on representing and helping disabled clients obtain the benefits they deserve. My practice includes assisting individuals at all levels of the Social Security disability process, including the initial application, Administrative Law Judge hearings, and before the Appeals Council. In addition, I also represent clients in Social Security appeals before the United States Federal Courts. Throughout my career, I have successfully represented thousands of claimants before the Social Security Administration.  Simply put, Disability is what I do!