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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 disabiity lawyerThere are a variety of conditions that can cause a person to become disabled, and some of them may be less obvious than others. While injuries or physical impairments can affect the type of work a person can perform, mental health concerns can also lead to disability. Unfortunately, those who suffer from mental illness may be denied Social Security Disability benefits, and they should understand their options for appealing these decisions.

Magistrate Overrules ALJ’s Decision Due to Incorrect Consideration of Mental Limitations

One recent Illinois case illustrates some of the reasons a person with a mental illness may be improperly denied disability benefits. In the case of Panayiota P. K. v. Commissioner of Social Security, the plaintiff was a 49-year-old woman who suffered from multiple mental impairments, including bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She reported difficulty with concentration, understanding and following instructions, and getting along with authority figures. She also experienced anxiety attacks multiple times per week, anger issues, and a voice in her head that told her to strike people who upset her.

At the plaintiff’s evidentiary hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) determined that the plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform work involving simple, routine tasks. A vocational expert (VE) testified that the plaintiff could work in light jobs such as a cleaner or production worker, but they noted that being off-task for at least 10% of the time would result in termination, and the plaintiff would likely also be terminated if she had any verbal or physical confrontations while at work. The ALJ denied disability benefits and stated that the plaintiff should be able to find work within her limitations.

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IL disability attorneyIf you have suffered an injury or illness that has made it impossible for you to return to work, you may be able to receive disability benefits, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). However, to receive these benefits, you will usually need to show that you have suffered a physical or mental impairment that has caused you to be unable to participate in “substantial gainful activity.” Your eligibility for benefits will usually be based on the testimony of a vocational expert (VE) who will offer an opinion on whether there are jobs available that fit your level of skill and the types of work you are able to perform. One tool that a VE will use when offering an opinion is the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT).

Magistrate Rules on Use of DOT in Disability Cases

The Dictionary of Occupational Titles is a multi-volume book published by the U.S. Department of Labor. It provides descriptions of most jobs that are available in the United States and information about the requirements that are needed to perform each job, including reasoning ability, physical exertion, communication skills, education, and training. Since the DOT was last updated in 1999, it is not fully up to date, but it is still used by VEs to determine what jobs a person may be able to perform and whether these jobs are available to qualified workers.

One recent case that took place in the U.S. District Court of Illinois provides a good example of how the DOT is used in Social Security Disability Cases. In the case of Brian A. B. v. Commissioner of Social Security, the plaintiff had been denied disability benefits. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that even though he had degenerative disc disease in the lumbar region and degenerative joint disease in the shoulder, he was able to do sedentary work while being limited to frequent reaching in all directions except overhead.

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