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Accounting for All of a Person's Limitations in Assessing a Disability Claim

Posted on in Social Security Disability

IL disability lawyerOne of the steps in assessing an application for Social Security disability benefits is looking at what jobs, if any, a person could perform when taking into account all of their physical and mental limitations. This is normally accomplished by having the administrative law judge (ALJ) posing a “hypothetical question” to a vocational expert (VE) during a disability hearing. It is critical that the ALJ includes all of the applicant's impairments in posing this question; otherwise, the VE's answer may not accurately reflect the applicant's actual job potential.

Illinois Judge Orders Social Security to Reconsider Limits on Applicant's “Concentration, Persistence, and Pace”

Here is a recent example of an ALJ failing to ask the right question. In Kenneth L. v. Saul, the plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits from Social Security. SSI is a need-based program available to low-income individuals who meet the same disability criteria as for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. So the legal issues in this case would be equally applicable to a plaintiff seeking disability benefits.

After a hearing, an ALJ denied the plaintiff's application after determining he retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform “a full range of work at all exertional levels,” provided the work was limited to “simple, routine and repetitive tasks not requiring work at a production rate pace.” As is standard practice, the ALJ based this conclusion on a VE's response to a hypothetical question.

But a federal judge said the ALJ's hypothetical question did not “appropriately address Plaintiff's impairments in concentration, persistence, or pace.” During the hearing, the ALJ received testimony from two state agency psychologists who reviewed the plaintiff's records. Both consultants said the plaintiff had “moderate limitations” in “maintaining attention and concentration for extended periods,” remembering or carrying out detailed instructions, and working with other people without getting distracted.

The ALJ, as noted above, limited the hypothetical question to asking the VE what jobs someone could perform if limited to “simple, routine and repetitive tasks.” This did not, in the judge's view, match what the consultants said. Indeed, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has “repeatedly rejected” the framing of an applicant's “limitations in concentration, persistence” in such a manner.

Put another way, the ALJ's questions to the VE should have been more precise. For instance, the doctors said the plaintiff was “limited to simple 1-2 step unskilled tasks.” The ALJ did not include this information in her RFC or her hypothetical question. The judge said this was just one example of a clear failure to “account for all of [the] Plaintiff's limitations.” A new hearing was therefore necessary.

Speak with an Illinois Social Security Disability Attorney Today

Social Security often takes improper shortcuts when it comes to assessing a disability application. One way you can combat this problem is by working with an experienced Chicago disability benefits lawyer who understands the system and will fight for your rights. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team.




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