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Question of the Month: My Doctor Put Me On Light Duty. How Did I Get Denied?

December 7, 2016

Suppose your doctor limited you to performing “light duty” work.  Why wouldn’t this be enough for Social Security to award disability benefits?

When Social Security decides a disability claim, it does so by determining your “Residual Functional Capacity,” or “RFC.”  An RFC is a finding of what you are able to do despite your medical problems.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses your age, education, work experience, and RFC, applies them to the law, and decides whether you meet its strict criteria of disability.

If you are under 50, you must prove to SSA that you are unable to perform any work in the national economy.  To SSA, it doesn’t matter if you are limited to “light duty.”  It simply isn’t enough.  That’s right – SSA expects you to perform a job that you have never done before, or even one that may be difficult to find.

If you are over 50 with physical health problems, Social Security uses the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, or “Grid,” to determine if you are disabled. For example, suppose you are 52 years old and worked hard as a construction worker for your entire life.  You injured your shoulder and your doctor says that you cannot lift over 20 pounds for that reason.  According to the “Grid,” at age 52 with past work in construction, you would have to show that you cannot sustain any work that requires frequent standing or walking.  That means that if you can do a lighter job on your feet, such as work as an usher or store clerk, you are not disabled under the law, despite your lifting restriction that prevents you from working in the construction trade.

But, there is hope if you are unable to even sustain light work—and this is why it is very important to contact an experienced Chicago Social Security Disability attorney.  We can ask your doctors the right questions and gather the right information in order to prove your case based on your unique circumstances.