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How Does Social Security Determine What Jobs I'm Still Capable of Doing?

Posted by on in Social Security Disability

Chicago disability benefits lawyer, Social Security Disability Insurance, mental impairments, disability case, disability claimsWhen applying for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, the agency will need to assess your ability to perform any type of meaningful work in spite of your physical and mental impairments. In a typical disability case, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) will pose hypothetical questions to a “vocational expert,” basically asking him or her to determine how someone with your medical history might be able to function in the job market.

While the questions may be hypothetical, they must still be grounded in your actual medical records. For example, if you suffer from diabetes, the ALJ must include diabetes as a parameter in the hypothetical question posed to the vocational expert. If the ALJ omits any of your demonstrated limitations, that may be grounds for seeking a new hearing should Social Security ultimately deny your application for benefits.

Social Security Failed to Ask Right Questions of Vocational Expert

Consider a recent case from here in Illinois where this occurred. The plaintiff has applied for disability benefits on multiple occasions starting in 2009. A Social Security ALJ denied the plaintiff's most recent application following a 2015 hearing.

On December 7, a federal magistrate in Rock Island ordered yet another hearing, citing the ALJ's deficiencies in fashioning her hypothetical questions to the vocational expert who testified at the 2015 hearing. In this case, the plaintiff suffers from a number of mental impairments, including bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and personality disorder. Despite all of these impairments, the ALJ determined the plaintiff could still “perform medium work” without significant restrictions.

When assessing disability claims based on mental impairments, it is critical to consider the cumulative effects of a plaintiff's disorders on his “concentration, persistence, and pace.” Indeed, in this case there was substantial medical evidence documenting the plaintiff's limitations in these areas. Yet the ALJ neglected to include any reference to these limitations when posing her hypothetical question to the vocational expert.

The magistrate said this omission was “significant,” because the whole point of the vocational expert's testimony is to ascertain what jobs an applicant could or could not hypothetically perform. In order for the vocational expert to make an appropriate determination, he or she must be made aware of any relevant limit on the applicant's abilities.

Here, not only did the ALJ fail to instruct the vocational expert on the plaintiff's limitations with respect to concentration, persistence, and pace; there was also no evidence the expert independently learned of these facts–say by attending the rest of the hearing–and therefore a new hearing was necessary.

Get Help With Your Social Security Disability Case

Social Security should not take shortcuts when it comes to assessing your disability claim. There is a process in place expressly to protect applicants and ensure their entire medical record is properly reviewed and considered. If you are involved in a Social Security case and need assistance from a qualified Chicago disability benefits lawyer, contact the offices of Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 today.


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