MENTAL IMPAIRMENTS THE JUDGE MUST CONSIDER
HOW DOES THE JUDGE RATE MENTAL CONDITIONS AT DISABILITY HEARINGS?
Mental Impairments are crucial to determining disability. At disability hearings, the ALJ must weigh the medical evidence. By “weigh” the evidence, he or she must determine which evidence to give the most credence too. For example, most SSA files contain evidence from the claimant’s physician and they also contain evidence from the SSA’s doctors. In mental cases, there is usually mental health evidence from the claimant’s psychologist and treating counselor. Additionally, there is medical evidence from doctor’s at Disability Determination Services. These doctors have never met the claimant, but they review records and offer a medical opinion about claimant’s mental health.
Additionally, the medical records usually contains a Psychological Examination done by a Consultative Examiner. The claimant attends an evaluation, in mental health cases, by a psychologist. The psychologist interviews the claimant. Questions about work history, drug and alcohol use, and mental health symptoms are part of the interview. No treating relationship is established during the examination. Instead, the psychologist offers a medical opinion with regard to the claimant’s mental impairments. Typically, the psychologist will rate the symptoms of mental conditions. The rating scale for mental conditions at the SSA hearing is “mild,” “moderate,” “marked,” and “extreme.”
The issue that frequently occurs in disability hearings is the ALJ will ignore evidence from the claimant’s treating psychologist, in favor of evidence from the SSA’s consultative examiner. Or, the ALJ will choose to give more weight to the DDS examiner’s medical opinion, rather than accept the opinion of claimant’s treating mental health source. Sometimes, the ALJ will do this, despite the fact that the DDS doctor has never met the claimant. medical evidence.
THE 7TH CIRCUIT HELD THE ALJ MUST INCLUDE ALL MENTAL IMPAIRMENTS IN VE HYPOTHETICAL
The ALJ determines the claimant’s mental residual functional capacity (RFC) by listening to the claimant’s testimony and by reviewing the medical record. The ALJ only uses the mental impairments in hypothetical questions to the vocational expert, that will impact the claimant’s ability to work. Many times, the ALJ will only accept “marked” mental impairments after reviewing the record. Therefore, if the DDS examiner notes only moderate impairments, the judge does not include them in the hypothetical questions to the VE. Likewise, it is possible for the judge to do the same with the mental impairments found by the claimant’s doctor or counselor.
The beauty of the recent 7th circuit case is that the court found the ALJ must include all mental impairments in the claimant’s mental residual functional capacity. In Crump v. Saul, the 7th Circuit court held that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) must include all mental impairments, including moderate impairments, in the hypothetical to the Vocational Expert (VE). If the ALJ does not, then she cannot rely on the VE’s hypothetical to deny the claim.
Crump applied for disability benefits based on mental health symptoms from Bipolar Disorder and Polysubstance Abuse Disorder. She told the ALJ that she couldn’t work because her mental problems cause moderate impairments. The ALJ did not include her moderate problems with concentration, persistence, or pace in her hypothetical to the VE. Instead, the ALJ found she could perform work limited to “simple and repetitive tasks.” With that description, the VE said there were jobs available to the claimant and she was denied.
“SIMPLE AND REPETITIVE TASKS” NOT ADEQUATE DESCRIPTION OF CLAIMANT’S ABILITIES
Crump argued that her “moderate” difficulties should be in the ALJ’S hypothetical to the VE. If they were, she argued, it would show she could not sustain employment. Her ability to maintain concentration and effort throughout the workday would impair her to the point she could not work. The 7th Circuit agreed with Crump. That Court states that limiting her to “simple and repetitive tasks” was not enough information for the VE. Likewise, such a finding did not include claimant’s “moderate” mental impairments.
In short, saying the claimant could do simple, repetitive tasks at work would not account for Crump’s ongoing difficulties with concentration, persistence, or pace at work. This is important because this case shows even “moderate” impairments must be part of the ALJ’s hypothetical to the VE. It also shows that moderate impairments can prevent work. The 7th Circuit remanded the case to the ALJ. On remand, the ALJ must take the claimant’s moderate mental issues into consideration. Particularly, in light of the claimant’s ability to work and how in posing hypothetical questions to the vocational expert.
MODERATE MENTAL IMPAIRMENTS ELIMINATE ALL WORK
At the hearing, the majority of ALJ’s use “simple and repetitive tasks” in their hypotheticals to the VE. This statement is used by ALJ’s to justify the finding claimant can do “unskilled work.” Typically, if a claimant can perform sedentary or light unskilled work, it results in a denial of the claim.
Crump stands for the fact that even moderate mental impairments can eliminate work. Most importantly, those moderate mental impairments erode the ability to sustain a 40 hour work week. What is a mental impairment? For example, anxiety might cause the inability to concentrate. Therefore, you could not follow employer instructions.
Likewise, depression could cause you to be unable to finish tasks. Moderate mental impairments in concentration and pace impact task completion during the work day. If a claimant can’t persist at tasks during an 8 hour day, then they can’t work. The same is true if the claimant must take extra breaks. Full-time work could not be done.
HIRE CANNON DISABILITY TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS
The attorneys at Cannon Disability Law believe the Judge should consider all of your mental issues at the hearing. Moderate mental impairments are just as important as severe ones. All mental symptoms can impact your ability to work. Moderate mental impairments can also impact your ability to get a along with coworkers and supervisors. They can also impair your ability to deal with the public.
If you have an unfavorable decision from an ALJ, make sure the decision includes all of your impairments. The ALJ must consider severe mental impairments and moderate mental impairments. Especially, make sure your mental issues are part of the ALJ’s hypothetical to the VE. Moderate mental impairments equate to mistakes on the job. They also equate to being off-task at work. Additionally, moderate impairments can require extra breaks during the work day.
CANNON DISABILITY CAN REPRESENT YOU AT YOUR DISABILITY HEARING
If you receive an ALJ denial, you have only 60 days from the date on the decision to appeal. Make sure you appeal quickly. Mental impairments do impact your ability to work. Contact Cannon Disability Law if you have disabling mental impairments. We help clients in Salt Lake City, Utah. Also, we represent clients in Las Vegas, Nevada and San Francisco, California. In fact, we can represent you in whatever state you live in. Hire us to be your disability legal team.
We do not require you to pay any money up front to hire our legal team. Additionally, we offer a free consultation. We will talk with you over the phone to see if we can help you with your case. Therefore, it costs nothing for you to contact our office. Likewise, it costs nothing for us to begin work on your case. We can help you file your application for SSD & SSI benefits. Additionally, we can appeal any unfavorable SSA decisions. Our legal team also has experience at the Appeals Council. We also appeal cases to Federal Court.
In the last 30 years, we have won over 20,000 disability cases. This proves we have the legal experience to help you. Our goal is to help you win your disability case. Also, our goal is to make the experience easier for you. You have enough to worry about when you are dealing with your disability. Especially if it is a mental condition. You don’t need more worry. Leave the legal work to us. Contact Cannon Disability Law today.