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How an RFC Assessment Can Make or Break Your Disability Case

Posted on in Denied Social Security Benefits

Chicago, IL Social Security disability benefit claim lawyerOne of the keys to prevailing in a Social Security disability case is demonstrating how your physical or mental limitations make it impossible for you to hold down a job. For their part, Social Security officials are required to assess the applicant's residual functional capacity (RFC), which takes into account of all of the available medical evidence, including the applicant's own testimony regarding his or her limitations. While Social Security is not required to accept or give equal weight to all such evidence, the agency must provide a logical explanation supporting its ultimate conclusions.

Magistrate: Social Security Failed to Explain Reasons for Denying Claim

Far too often, Social Security fails in this basic task. For example, on September 17, 2018, a federal magistrate judge ordered Social Security to conduct a new hearing in the case of a disability applicant from Illinois. The applicant first applied for disability nearly five years ago. She claims she has been unable to work since 2008 due to “two generated or herniated discs and possible sciatica,” according to court records.

Following a hearing, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) held that the applicant did not qualify as legally disabled. The ALJ reached this conclusion after performing an RFC assessment that found that the applicant's physical limitations did not prevent her from working. After Social Security's internal appeals process upheld the ALJ's decision, the applicant sought judicial review.

The magistrate held that the ALJ's RFC assessment was “insufficient.” The main problem was the ALJ did not “link any findings from the resulting medical opinions” of the doctors who reviewed the applicant's medical records “to the RFC limitations she imposed.” Indeed, the ALJ decided to give the opinions of the medical experts “little weight” in her opinion. While she is entitled to do this, the magistrate noted, the ALJ still needs to cite some evidence in the record to justify her findings.

More problematic, according to the magistrate, was the ALJ's failure to account for the applicant's testimony that due to her condition, she “must lie down” after “alternating between sitting and standing for a total of one hour.” In other words, the applicant needs to lie down at least 15 minutes per hour during the course of a normal work day, which effectively precludes her from holding any full-time job. The ALJ failed to address this claim at all, the magistrate said. And while the ALJ is free to disbelieve or challenge the applicant's testimony, the ALJ must still “articulate” her reasoning as part of the overall RFC assessment.

Speak With a Cook County Social Security Disability Attorney Today

Social Security often tries to hold disability applicants to impossible standards, but at the end of the day, a disability decision must be based on evidence, rather than an ALJ's personal feelings about an applicant. If you have applied for Social Security benefits and need assistance in making your case, a skilled Chicago disability benefits lawyer can help. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 today to schedule a free initial consultation so we can learn more about your case.



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