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social security official, Chicago social security lawyerIn assessing a claim for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, an administrative law judge (ALJ) must examine an applicant's “residual functional capacity” (RFC). This is a measure of the applicant's ability to work, taking into account any mental or physical disabilities. Since the judge is not a doctor, he or she must review the opinions of physicians who have treated the claimant. The ALJ must ultimately weigh the credibility of these medical experts in making a final decision to grant or deny disability benefits.

Never Seek Medical Advice from Bureaucrats

But there are cases where judges fail to justify their decisions properly or rely on improper evidence. For example, a Chicago magistrate judge recently determined an administrative law judge improperly denied a disability applicant's claim without providing “substantial evidence.” Specifically, the magistrate said the ALJ failed to assess the claimant's RFC properly.

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Posted on in Social Security Disability

"The Grid, a digital frontier...I kept dreaming of a world I thought I'd never see."-Tron Legacy 2010

Kevin Flynn uttered those words in the opening scene of the movie Tron Legacy in 2010. The original digital Grid was introduced in the first Tron movie in 1982. If you have not seen either of the movies already, I would strongly encourage you to do so. Coincidentally, it was only a few years earlier that the Social Security Administration changed everything by coming up with their own version of The Grid, a different kind of standardized system used to determine whether people are entitled to Social Security disability benefits.

The Grid, also known as the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, is a system containing three charts, each for a different Residual Functional Capacity. Those three charts are vocational factors and are: 1. Age, 2. Education, and 3. Work Experience. When an individual's information is matched with The Grid, a judge will be able to come up with a conclusive finding of either "disabled" or "not disabled."

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In order to be adjudicated as disabled before a Social Security Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), an attorney or claimants representative must follow and complete what is called the five step Social Security disability evaluation process. The evaluation process asks the individual seeking disability benefits five separate questions: (1) Are you working and are you performing substantial gainful activity; (2) Is your condition severe; (3) Does your condition meet or exceed a listed impairment; (4) Can you do previous work; and (5) What work can you do. While each of the five steps must be proven to be adjudicated as disabled, proving the fourth step can often be tricky. The process of proving whether a claimant can do previous work is determined by an individual's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). This blog post explains what RFC is and why it is important to every disability claim before an ALJ.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates what someone's RFC is by determining the most work that a claimant can do despite any of his or her limitations. SSA determines the most work that a claimant can do by dividing "work" into four different categories: heavy, medium, light, and sedentary work. It is worth noting that there is sometimes a fifth category that is recognized for very heavy work; however, very heavy work is scarcely used and will not be discussed in this blog post. Whether a claimant wins his or her disability claim is greatly affected by which category he or she is ultimately put into. The lower an individual's RFC level, the greater the chances of meeting the fourth requirement of the five step evaluation process.

The first category of RFC is heavy work. If a claimant can successfully complete tasks at a job where the work is classified as heavy, it will be extremely difficult to be adjudicated as disabled. Heavy work is defined by SSA as lifting "no more than 100 pounds with frequent lifting or carrying of weights up to 50 pounds." Heavy work involves lots of movement and includes heavy lifting and very little sitting.

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