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IL disability lawyerThe Social Security disability application process often puts individuals in a bind. On the one hand, the law requires proof they are unable to hold down even a “sedentary” position. On the other hand, many applicants feel they need to at least apply for work, if for no other reason than to have some source of income while waiting to hear back from Social Security.

But will apply for a job–or even multiple jobs–doom your disability benefits application? The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees disability cases here in Illinois, has said in the past that a “job search” by itself does not discredit an applicant's disability claim. In many cases, looking for work may simply reflect a strong internal work ethic or an “overly optimistic outlook” about one's job prospects. But in other cases, Social Security or a court may consider job applications as part of the overall evidence supporting or undermining an individual's claims.

Social Security Denies Disability After ALJ Suggests Applicant “Lost His Motivation to Work”

A recent example of the latter is Primm v. Saul, a recent Seventh Circuit decision where the Court affirmed Social Security's decision to reject a disability claim. The plaintiff in this case applied for disability benefits, alleging he was unable to work from 2006 through 2014 due to a variety of impairments. A Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) determined that despite the plaintiff's ailments, he was still capable of performing “sedentary work” during the relevant period and was therefore not legally disabled.

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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, 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.

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