Winning Your Disability Case by “Equaling” a Listing

Doctors with patientWhen reviewing disability cases, the Social Security Administration (SSA) wants to know one thing, and one thing only: Are you too disabled to work?

One of the ways the administration determines this is by comparing your impairment to medical listings in what is known as “the Blue Book.” The Blue Book describes the types of illnesses and symptoms that would automatically qualify an applicant for benefits. The SSA determines, with input from you and your doctor, whether you meet the criteria in these listings.

However, if you don’t meet a medical listing in the SSA Blue Book, then you will have to prove you are disabled in another way in order to get disability benefits.

One of these ways is by “equaling” a listing in the Blue Book–that is, showing that while you don’t meet the same criteria in the Blue Book, you show symptoms and impairments which are equal in severity, intensity, and duration to a listing in the Blue Book. This way of proving disability is just as valid as meeting a listing. However, it is not necessarily as simple. If the SSA denied you benefits because they said you didn’t meet or equal a listing, you will need an attorney and a doctor who knows your medical history to argue that you do equal a listing.

Don’t worry if you don’t meet a medical listing. The majority of disability applicants–and many, many beneficiaries–do not meet a listing. The Blue Book listings are used to streamline the claims process, like a quick reference guide for the SSA, rather than a limit on the people who can receive SSA disability benefits.

How do I equal a Blue Book listing?

In one of three ways. Either:

  1. Your impairment IS in the Blue Book–but with different symptoms and effects. These must be equally severe.
  2. Your impairment IS NOT in the Blue Book–but can be medically shown to equal a listing in the Blue Book. Or,
  3. You have multiple impairments, none of which meets a listing individually, but whose overall effect on your life is just as disabling as a Blue Book listing. (This includes combinations of mental and physical impairments.)

In each of these cases, you will have to use medical evidence to prove equal severity.  You and your lawyer will present these in a brief to the court, outlining a theory as to why your impairment does qualify as a disability. You and you doctor will bring the supporting medical evidence for this theory. Go over the listing with your doctor and talk to him or her about the medical tests the Blue Book asks for in your listing; sometimes you can present alternative tests which offer similar findings. The SSA will give great weight to your doctor’s opinion as to whether or not your impairment equals a listing.

The SSA must consider the medical evidence and tests you present, and if they deny you, they will give you a written explanation of their reasons.

Photo courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives via Creative Commons