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IL disability lawyerTo receive Social Security disability benefits, you will not only need to show that your physical or mental conditions have caused you to be unable to work in jobs you have previously done, but you will also need to demonstrate that you are unable to find gainful employment in positions that are available in the United States economy. In many cases, Social Security disability claims are denied because a vocational expert (VE) testifies that a person should be able to work in certain jobs that fit their physical or mental limitations. However, these denials may be made based on an improper consideration of the complexity of the work a person is able to perform.

Magistrate Overrules Denial of Benefits Based on Limitations Regarding One-to-Two Step Tasks

One recent case in Illinois courts addressed work limitations and the improper denial of benefits. In the case of Michael S. v. Commissioner of Social Security, the plaintiff had applied for Social Security disability benefits based on cognitive impairments such as memory loss, attention deficit disorder, and depression. After disability benefits were denied, the plaintiff appealed this decision, and the court ruled in his favor and remanded the case to the Commissioner of Social Security for reconsideration. After considering new evidence, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) again denied benefits, and the plaintiff appealed this decision as well.

The key issue in this appeal involved the opinions of two state agency psychologists stating that the plaintiff should be limited to one-to-two step tasks while at work. Based on the testimony of a medical expert, the ALJ rejected this limitation and found that the plaintiff could perform light work while being limited to tasks that involved simple decision-making.

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IL disability lawyerThere are a wide variety of different types of disabilities that can affect a person’s ability to work. However, this does not mean that a person will automatically qualify for Social Security disability benefits. To make the case that you are disabled, you will need to meet certain requirements, including receiving evaluations from medical experts, and you will need to specify how a physical or mental condition has affected your ability to work. One type of disability that is not always fully understood is the inability to concentrate on your work and complete the tasks involved in a regular workday.

Illinois Court Reverses Decision Based on Improper Consideration of a Vocational Expert’s Testimony

An administrative law judge (ALJ) may choose to deny a disability claim because they believe that an applicant should be able to find employment that fits any restrictions or requirements that may apply to a person’s condition, including issues with “concentration, persistence, and pace.” However, an ALJ must properly consider the evidence in a case, including testimony from a vocational expert (VE). One recent case that was heard in the U.S. District Court of Illinois demonstrated how a denial may be based on a faulty consideration of a VE’s testimony.

In this case, Timothy S. C. v Commissioner of Social Security, the plaintiff, a 50-year-old man, was found to have a number of severe impairments, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, arthritis, kidney disease, depression, and anxiety. He had previously worked in construction and as a food prepper and dishwasher, but he stated that he could no longer work due to blood pressure, fatigue, depression, sleep issues, and other health concerns. Lack of concentration was a key factor in his ability to continue working.

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IL disability lawyerEarlier this year we discussed a major U.S. Supreme Court ruling that impacts the rights of individuals applying for Social Security disability benefits. In Biestek v. Berryhill, the Court said vocational experts (VEs) who testify in disability hearings are not categorically required to disclose the underlying data used in assessing the applicant's hypothetical job prospects. Nevertheless, the Court said an administrative law judge or reviewing court could look at a VEs refusal to disclose such data when assessing the overall credibility of their testimony.

Magistrate Finds ALJ "Failed to Respond" to Disability Applicant's Concerns Over Job Estimates

A more recent decision from a federal magistrate judge here in Illinois, Jerry P. v. Saul, offers some guidance as to how lower courts are applying the Biestek decision. The plaintiff in this case applied for disability benefits in 2014. Following a 2016 hearing, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) rejected the plaintiff's application.

The ALJ relied heavily on the testimony of a VE, who said the plaintiff could still work as a "hand packer, assembler, or sorter" despite his impairments. The VE further stated such jobs "existed in significant numbers in the national economy" and offered specific estimates for each of the three occupations.

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