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How Using a Cane Affects Your Ability to Receive Disability Benefits

IK diability attorneyA key step in the Social Security disability process is the determination of an applicant's “residual functional capacity” or RFC. The RFC is designed to account for an applicant's physical and mental limitations in assessing what type of work, if any, they are still able to perform. If Social Security fails to account for a particular limitation in performing an RFC, the agency needs to explain why.

Social Security Cannot Reject Disability Applicant's Testimony without Explanation

For example, if a disability applicant says he requires a cane to walk or get around, the RFC needs to account for this limitation. Alternatively, the Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) overseeing the case must explain why the applicant's testimony is inconsistent with the other evidence in the record–i.e., that the applicant does not medically require a cane. What the ALJ cannot do is simply ignore the testimony regarding the need for a cane without explanation.

In fact, an Illinois federal magistrate recently returned a disability case to Social Security precisely for this reason. The plaintiff in this case applied for disability benefits in 2014. An ALJ conducted a hearing in 2017. Following the hearing, the ALJ denied the plaintiff's application.

Before the magistrate judge, the plaintiff argued the ALJ's RFC did not account for his use of a cane. The magistrate agreed this was a legal error on the ALJ's part and justified a new hearing. At the 2017 hearing, the plaintiff said he started using a cane before he applies for disability, and that he continued to “use it daily.”

Despite this testimony, the ALJ never included the use of a cane when posing hypothetical questions to a vocational expert. Such hypotheticals are used to create the RFC. Here, the ALJ omitted the cane as a limitation but did not explain why, the magistrate said.

The ALJ was free to reject the applicant's testimony if there was contradictory evidence in the record. But the magistrate noted the ALJ did “not explain why she rejected the plaintiff's testimony and concluded that he stopped using a cane in 2016.” While Social Security offered the court some possible explanations as to how the ALJ might have reached her conclusion, the magistrate said it was improper for the government to defend the ALJ's actions on grounds she herself “did not embrace.” A new hearing was, therefore, the only way to address this issue.

Speak with an Illinois Social Security Disability Lawyer Today

If you are forced to use a cane or other assisted mobility device, Social Security has a legal obligation to account for this limitation when assessing your disability application. An experienced Chicago disability benefits attorney can help ensure the government does not ignore its responsibilities in this area. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, today at 312-999-0999 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with an attorney who can review your disability case and advise you on what steps to take next.




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