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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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IL disability lawyerIn a recent post, we discussed a federal appeals court decision that chastised Social Security for its failure to properly consider the limits on a disability applicant's "concentration, persistence, and pace.” Such limitations are relevant when assessing an applicant's hypothetical ability to work in spite of their medical impairments. Yet Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) routinely downplay limitations on concentration, persistence, and pace when questioning vocational experts (VEs) at disability hearings.

Court: ALJ Failed to Ask the Right Question of Vocational Expert

And in fact, the same federal appeals court that handed down the decision we previously discussed had to remind Social Security of this yet again. On February 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit here in Chicago ordered Social Security to conduct a new disability hearing after the ALJ failed to “properly address” the plaintiff's “limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace.”

The plaintiff in this particular case, DeCamp v. Berryhill, is a 55-year-old woman who applied for disability benefits, citing her brain tumor, neck and back pain, and bipolar disorder as impairments. At a 2015 hearing before an ALJ, the plaintiff testified that she suffered from frequent migraines–approximately four per week–and that she was limited in her daily activities due to chronic pain. As part of the hearing, the ALJ also posed a hypothetical question to a VE, which asked if an unskilled laborer who “may be off task or off pace up to 10 percent of the work day” outside of normal breaks could still find work in the national economy. The VE replied such work would be hypothetically available; however, if the applicant were “off pace or off task more than 15 percent of the day,” as opposed to 10 percent, then there would be “no competitive work available.”

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