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Vocational Experts, Hypothetical Questions and Your Social Security Hearing in Illinois

| May 29, 2024 | Social Security |

When you apply for Social Security benefits, you likely will have to go through a hearing. Just like a trial, your Social Security hearing has rules on what is allowed and what isn’t. It is reasonable to expect that you probably won’t know what most of those rules are. That is one reason, among many, why having an experienced Chicago Social Security attorney on your side is so critical. Your knowledgeable attorney will know all those rules, and make sure that you are not denied benefits due to some sort of improper evidence or other procedural error.

A recent case from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals is a good example of what we mean. The applicant, L.S., was a person with some serious medical issues, including PTSD, hypertension and knee pain. On the basis of those medical maladies, L.S. initiated an application for benefits. An agency psychiatric consultant concluded he had “moderate” difficulty maintaining concentration or persistence.

“Concentration, persistence and pace” is an important phrase in Social Security cases. The phrase refers to your ability to get tasks completed in what would generally be a normal period of time. If you have limitations in concentration, persistence or pace due to medical or psychological issues, then these impairments may be substantial enough to qualify you as disabled. The Social Security Administration, of course, will likely try to prove that you’re not disabled by showing that, although you’re limited, you can still do some kinds of jobs.

The agency denied L.S.’s application, determining that, although the man had limitations, he was not disabled and could still do “unskilled” work. During L.S.’s hearing, the administrative law judge (ALJ) asked the vocational expert a hypothetical question about the kinds of jobs that someone like L.S. could do. That vocational expert concluded that L.S. could actually handle a variety of jobs ranging from “shipping-and-receiving weigher” to lamination inspector or final inspector, of which there were supposedly 167,000 such jobs around the country.

There was a flaw in that hearing, however, and it was something that L.S. was able to use successfully to get a reversal denying him benefits. Once you’ve proven – and the ALJ has found – that you have limitations of concentration, persistence and pace, then any hypothetical questions the ALJ asks the vocational expert about the jobs you still can do must factor in your limitations, unless the vocational expert has done an independent review of your record.

Permissible hypothetical questions must incorporate your documented impairment

“Factoring in” means more than just using phrasing like “simple repetitive tasks” or no “fast-paced production line or tandem tasks” in the questions posed to the vocational expert. In order for the vocational expert’s testimony to be adequate to deny you benefits, there must be a clear link between your documented impairment in concentration, persistence and pace and any limitations incorporated into the hypothetical question(s) the ALJ asked the vocational expert.

That didn’t happen in L.S.’s hearing, so he was entitled to a reversal.

When you make a claim for Social Security benefits, you need powerful legal representation with the necessary experience to get results. Rely on the skilled Chicago Social Security attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eisenstein, Johnson, Bareck & Bertuca, who have many years handling, and winning both SSI and SSDI cases for our clients. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 312-724-5846 or through our website.