Indianapolis Social Security disability attorney explains how your claim for benefits may have been denied in error

The Social Security Administration, like any large organization, makes mistakes. If your claim for Social Security disability benefits was denied, but you are unable to work because of a physical or mental impairment, it is possible that your claim was erroneously denied. Mistakes commonly made by Social Security decision-makers include:

  • Considering only one or some, but not all, of your impairments;
  • Failing to gather the medical evidence that would establish that your impairment “meets or medically equals” a Listing impairment;
  • Improperly evaluating your education level (e.g., relying on your years of formal education, even though your actual education level is lower);
  • Improperly evaluating (i.e., underestimating) the nature of your pain;
  • Improperly evaluating the level of exertion required in your past work; and
  • Improperly evaluating your residual functional capacity.

Overestimating your residual functional capacity

Because this is perhaps the most common error I see in representing Indiana disability claimants, it warrants a closer look.

Your residual functional capacity is your ability to perform work-related functions – to manipulate small objects, lift and carry objects, walk, stand, sit – despite the limitations caused by your impairment. If your physical or mental impairment is not severe enough to qualify as a Listing impairment, then the Indianapolis disability decision-maker will consider additional, non-medical evidence in your case, including your residual functional capacity. The Social Security Administration expresses residual functional capacity in terms of work levels. For example, in order to perform “light work,” you must be capable of “lifting not more than 20 pounds at a time, with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds.” In order to perform “medium work,” you must be capable of “frequent bending or stooping” and “lifting no more than 50 pounds at a time, with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 pounds.”

Your residual functional capacity is determined based on the medical evidence provided by your doctors. If your medical records do not accurately reflect your limitations, then the Social Security decision-maker may overstate your ability to work. For example, if your medical records state that you cannot lift more than 50 pounds, but fail to state that you also cannot engage in any activity that involves repetitive lifting of more than 10 pounds and cannot stoop or bend without difficulty, then the Social Security decision-maker will conclude you are capable of performing medium work even though, in reality, you are limited to light work. Thus, because of this inaccurate and incomplete medical record, your claim for benefits may be denied based on an erroneous residual functional capacity determination.

How an Indianapolis disability lawyer can help

An experienced Indianapolis disability lawyer can review your denial letter, talk with you and your doctors about the facts of your case, and take steps to correct an erroneous denial of benefits. Sometimes the Indiana state agency’s error is so blatant that your Social Security disability lawyer will request an on-the-record favorable decision well in advance of your hearing date. Sometimes, the error can be addressed by providing the Social Security Administration with additional medical records. This may be the case if, as discussed above, your residual functional capacity is overstated. Similarly, if your claim is denied on the ground that your condition is “not severe,” this usually means your medical records are incomplete. Sometimes, the best remedy is to begin preparing for your testimony at the administrative hearing.