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“Concentration, Persistence, and Pace” and Disability Benefits

 Posted on February 15, 2019 in Social Security Disability Medical Conditions

IL disability lawyerMany Illinois residents who apply for Social Security disability benefits find it impossible to focus on the types of daily tasks required by a normal workplace. Social Security's own regulations refer to a person's “concentration, persistence, and pace” to describe such difficulties. In general, if an applicant would be off-task at least 15 percent of the time due to concentration, persistence, and pace issues, that would tend to support a disability claim.

Federal Court Orders Social Security to Conduct New Disability Hearing

But this assumes Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) actually take concentration, persistence, and pace into account when evaluating a claim. This does not always happen, despite repeated warnings from federal courts that it is the law. Just recently, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago ordered Social Security to conduct a new disability hearing for a plaintiff precisely because the ALJ failed to properly account for these limitations.

The plaintiff in this case first applied for disability benefits more than eight years ago. In a 2013 examination conducted in connection with the plaintiff's application, a state agency psychiatrist determined the plaintiff suffered from major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. Among other things, this disorder meant the plaintiff had “below average levels of mental control,” which affected his concentration, persistence, and pace.

The ALJ assigned to the case subsequently accepted that the plaintiff had “moderate difficulty” with his concentration, persistence, and pace. Yet the ALJ did not incorporate these limitations into his final determination of the plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC) to work. Nor did the ALJ include these limits when posing hypothetical questions to a vocational expert regarding the types of jobs that someone with the plaintiff's impairments might be able to obtain.

The Seventh Circuit ruled the ALJ did not follow the law. “Again and again,” the Court said in its opinion, “we have said that when an ALJ finds there are documented limitations of concentration, persistence, and pace, the hypothetical question posed to the [vocational expert] must account for these limitations.”

Here, the ALJ's question to the vocational expert only said the hypothetical individual “would further be limited to only simply reaching, repetitive tasks, with few workplace changes, no teamwork, and no interactions with the public.” There was no mention of concentration, persistence, and pace problems. And while the Seventh Circuit said the ALJ did not need to use those exact terms, the wording of the question above failed to account for the plaintiff's “mental-health symptoms” experienced “without interacting with other people.” In addition, the Court said the ALJ's hypothetical question failed to account for the “level of stress” someone in the plaintiff's position could handle in the workplace.

Speak with a Chicago Social Security Disability Attorney Today

While it is easy to dismiss people with concentration, persistence, and pace problems as “lazy,” the truth is that many disability applicants have well-documented medical explanations for why they are unable to remain on-task at a normal job. Social Security has an obligation to account for these limitations when deciding whether or not to award disability benefits. If you are having difficulty with your own Social Security application and need assistance from a qualified Chicago disability benefits lawyer, contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 today to schedule a free consultation.




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