The Social Security Administration defines the term "disabled" according to how much a physical or mental impairment affects your future employment potential. A qualifying impairment must be either a terminal illness or a condition expected to last for at least one year. In most cases you must also be unable to remain in your current position and be unable to find other work because of your medical condition. However, if you meet the criteria for an approved impairment listed in the SSA "Listing of Impairments," you will qualify automatically regardless of your ability to work.
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Blue Book Listings
The listing of impairments, more commonly referred to as the Blue Book, includes the most common approved impairments for adults and children. To qualify, your condition must either be included in the list or be equivalent in terms of severity. Blue book listings organize disorders according to major body systems and functions. These include, but are not limited to, musculoskeletal, sensory, respiratory, cardiovascular and immune system disorders.
Compassionate Allowance Impairments
Terminal illnesses and about 165 medical conditions qualify for expedited application processing. In some cases, a medical diagnosis is enough to qualify for expedited processing. In other cases, it depends on the severity of the illness or condition. For example, a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's disease or multiple system atrophy, a disease similar to but more serious than Parkinson's disease, is enough to qualify under the program. However, a condition such as cancer usually must be metastatic or in Stage IV before the impairment automatically qualifies.
Listed Impairments Subject to Evaluation
Although all impairments that match a Blue Book listing are approved conditions, most are subject to a thorough and often lengthy evaluation. These include ailments such as rheumatoid arthritis, heart failure, Crohn's disease, Asperger's Syndrome and traumatic brain injuries. Whether these qualify depends on how severe the symptoms are and how much they affect your ability to work. For example, even though rheumatoid arthritis is an approved impairment, it only qualifies if you meet specific criteria. This includes such things as needing two canes, a walker or a wheelchair to move around; a fixation of your spine of at least 45 degrees; or suffering repeated flare-ups with at least two debilitating symptoms such as fever, extreme fatigue or significant weight loss.
A medical condition not listed in the Blue Book may still qualify as an approved impairment. Unlisted conditions supported by medical evidence that limit your residual functional capacity may be approved. Required medical evidence consists of clinical reports and lab tests. To determine your residual functional capacity, a disability claims examiner will assess how well or whether you can carry out the duties required for your current job. If not, the examiner will then determine whether your condition is severe enough to keep you from finding other employment before approving or rejecting a disability application.