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How Does Social Security Assess My Capacity for Work?

Posted on in Social Security Disability

b2ap3_thumbnail_social-security-Chicago_20170402-191104_1.jpgWhen you file a claim for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, an administrative law judge (ALJ) must review your case and determine, among other things, your “residual functional capacity” or RFC. The RFC is basically an assessment of your current work-related capabilities, taking into account your medical impairments. Additionally, an RFC classifies your ability to perform “sedentary,” “light,” or “medium” work, as well as whether you can perform the same type of job as performed before the onset of your disability.

Social Security Not Allowed to Ignore All Evidence, Make Up Their Own

A Social Security ALJ is not supposed to make up an RFC out of thin air. The ALJ must review expert medical opinions offered by your treating physician and any state agency doctors who review your medical records. The ALJ does not have to accept any medical opinion that is not supported by evidence; however, there does have to be some evidence in support of an RFC determination.

Unfortunately, many Social Security officials try to take shortcuts. For example, in a recent Illinois case, a magistrate ordered Social Security to reconsider an ALJ's decision to deny an applicant benefits. Specifically, the magistrate cited the ALJ's decision to exclude all medical evidence related to the applicant's RFC.

The applicant in this case had severe physical impairments related to his hand and shoulder. The applicant's treating physician completed an RFC form, indicating his patient “could not sit or stand for more than one hour at a time, or stand for more than two hours in any workday.” Separately, a state agency consultant confirmed the applicant “was limited to light exertional work with postural limitations.”

The ALJ rejected the opinions of both doctors, as well as two other physicians who treated or reviewed the applicant. This left the ALJ with no evidence on which to base an RFC determination. So the ALJ concluded the applicant could still perform “a full range of work at all exertional levels,” subject to only minor limitations.

The magistrate said the ALJ's actions were unacceptable. An ALJ is free to reject medical evidence. But doing so creates “an evidentiary gap in the record.” Additionally, the magistrate stated that the ALJ needs to go a step further and “fully and fairly develop the record.” For instance, she could have asked the applicant's doctors to reevaluate him and prepare a new opinion. She cannot, however, “play doctor” herself and make her own unsupported medical conclusions.

Has Social Security Wrongly Denied Your Disability Claim?

Social Security officials tend to assume applicants are exaggerating or even faking their disabilities to get benefits. Manipulating RFC assessments are one trick for turning the process against legitimately disabled individuals. Do not let Social Security do this to you. If you need help from an experienced Chicago Social Security Disability attorney, contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC today.



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