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Illinois Social Security disability application attorney absenteeismNot everyone who applies for Social Security disability benefits is incapable of performing some degree of work. However, one of the questions a Social Security official needs to consider is: How often will a person be absent from work or “off-task” due to their physical or mental impairments? After all, a person who needs to take 10 days a month off to deal with their disability is not exactly employable in any traditional sense of the word. For this reason, Social Security needs to not only make inquiries about the effects of a disability applicant's potential absenteeism, but the agency must also incorporate a proper assessment of such limitations in reaching a final decision.

Social Security Fails to Properly Address Limits on Disability Applicant's Ability to Remain On-Task

In one recent case, Social Security fell short of the mark when assessing absenteeism. In Hawist v. Berryhill, the plaintiff applied for disability benefits due to a number of impairments, including “osteoarthritis, back, knee, and shoulder pain, learning difficulty, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse,” according to court records. At a hearing, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) posed several hypothetical questions to a vocational expert (VE). Such questions are commonly used to assess the types of jobs a person with the applicant's symptoms can hold when accounting for certain impairments.

The ALJ asked the VE to assume a person with the plaintiff's physical and medical impairments “would be reasonably likely to be off task for more than 20 percent of the workday due to pain, fatigue, and mental health symptoms.” This assumption was consistent with the medical evidence presented by the plaintiff's doctors. Based on the ALJ's hypothetical, the VE testified that a person would be unable to maintain any form of “competitive employment.” The VE added that a typical worker “should be on task 85 to 90 percent of the day.”

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Chicago disability benefits denial attorneyInconsistency is often a major factor in Social Security denying disability claims. If the agency feels your doctor's opinions are inconsistent with the other medical evidence available, your claim can be denied. Similarly, if an administrative law judge (ALJ) feels your own testimony with respect to your symptoms–especially with respect to subjective matters like pain–is inconsistent, that may also form the basis for denying a claim.

Appeals Court Sides With Social Security Despite Problems With ALJ's Reasoning

Consider a recent decision by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago. The plaintiff in this case unsuccessfully applied for disability benefits. He previously worked for a chemical company, and while loading chemicals onto a truck at work one day, he “felt pain in his low back.” The pain persisted, so he eventually saw a specialist, who determined the plaintiff had a large disc herniation “that was pinching a spinal nerve root.”

Although doctors initially advised a conservative course of treatment–i.e., physical therapy–the plaintiff ultimately needed back surgery. This led him to stop working in 2007. In 2008, a physical therapist suggested the plaintiff could resume performing “light” work. However, the plaintiff did not return to work and instead applied for disability benefits in 2012.

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Illinois Social Security disability lawyer stroke victimOne sign that you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits is the need to use a cane in order to walk or stand for prolonged periods of time. While the use of a cane does not automatically mean you are legally disabled, it does provide strong evidence that you are unable to perform the type of activities typically associated with full-time work. At the same time, Social Security officials may attempt to minimize or discount the importance of your need to use a cane as a pretext for rejecting your disability application.

Social Security Ordered to Reconsider Stroke Victim's Case

Consider a recent disability case from here in Illinois. The plaintiff in this case was a man in his early 50s. Five years ago, he suffered a heart attack followed by a stroke. As a result, he continues to experience weakness on the left side of his body, which requires him to use a cane for walking.

The plaintiff subsequently applied for disability benefits. A Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) rejected the plaintiff's claim, however, finding that despite his impairments, the plaintiff could still “work or stand for six hours in an eight-hour day and that he could do so without his cane.”

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