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How does the Judge Determine Disability in a Social Security case?

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If your Social Security disability application is denied, you may have to appear before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) for an independent decision on your request for benefits. But how does the ALJ go about determining whether someone is disabled?  The process is complicated and technical, and does not necessarily involve common sense.  The ALJ makes his disability determination on what is called a “hypothetical” basis.  It has very little to do with the real world and nothing to do with the fact that employers will not hire you because of your medical conditions.  The ALJ looks only at whether you are capable of doing jobs, not whether you would be hired. Therefore, you may have to prove that you are unable to do jobs that you know you would never be hired to perform.

In most cases, you will have to prove two things to show that you are disabled:  First, you have to prove that your medical condition(s) prevent you from performing any job you have done in the past fifteen years.  Second, you have to prove that there aren’t any other jobs you are capable of doing considering your age, education and past work experience.  Think about all the jobs you have had in the past 15 years, and pick out the easiest one.  You will have to prove that you cannot do that easiest job even if you were never hired for that job again, or even if the company where you worked no longer exists or the job is not available for some other reason.

Proving that there are no other jobs you are capable of performing considering your age, education and past work experience, is even more complicated and opposed to common sense. For social security, you do not have to be “permanently” disabled, but you do have to be disabled for at least 12 consecutive months. Although you have to be totally disabled in the sense that you are unable to perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the economy, this does not mean that you have to be unable to do anything.  In fact, very few people who go in front of an Administrative Law Judge are unable to do anything at all. Everyone can do something.  This is important because one way to determine disability is to start by trying to figure out what you can do.  Once you figure that out, you can determine whether or not jobs within your capacity exist in significant numbers in the economy, considering your age, education and work experience.  This determination usually involves opinions given at your hearing by testimony from a vocational expert.

As you can see, this process can be fairly complicated and technical. Therefore, it is important to have good legal representation at your hearing to help you navigate these issues.

Ron Fladhammer has over 20 years of experience representing individuals who have been denied Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits. Our office hosts one of the only video hearing location sites in the state of Illinois, so there is no need to travel to any other location to have your hearing held. Our success rate is outstanding, and if your case is not approved, there are no attorney fees.

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