A Social Security disability attorney in New Mexico will explain that state agencies and Administrative Law Judges, or ALJs, evaluate disability claims differently. Although the rule across the board is that a disability decision cannot conflict with the medical evidence, state agencies rarely look beyond the medical findings in your file when evaluating your ability to work. The state agencies utilize the Listing of Impairments much more often in issuing favorable decisions. Despite several successful lawsuits challenging the use of the Listing of Impairments, state agencies continue to use the Listing of Impairments as the unstated basis for many denials, especially in cases brought by claimants younger than 50.
More specifically, state agencies usually apply specific formulas (found in training and guidance manuals) to determine residual functional capacity (RFC) for certain medical impairments. This has the effect of treating all claimants with similar medical findings identically. Indeed, few of the formulas used by state agencies result in a finding that a claimant cannot do a wide range of sedentary work.
Administrative Law Judges
ALJs, in contrast, have less rigid views with respect to medical findings. For ALJs, medical findings merely set the parameters for a range of possible RFCs, only some of which may lead to a finding of disability. ALJs tend to take a broader view of the entire case, including the claimant’s credibility, in determining which RFC best matches a claimant’s capacity. For example, ALJs find many more claimants under age 50 disabled because of inability to perform sedentary work than do the state agencies.
According to one study, ALJs found claimants with back impairments disabled 75% of the time, in contrast to 11% of the time by state agencies. For claimants under age 50 with back impairments, the state agency found them disabled only 2% of the time, whereas ALJs found them disabled 68% of the time.
For questions on navigating Social Security disability applications or hearings, contact Social Security disability attorney in New Mexico, Michelle Baca.