Why You Can't Work: What Not to Complain About at Your Disability Hearing

Don't waste your time arguing these points before a Social Security judge.

By , Attorney
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If you've been denied benefits because Social Security says there are less demanding jobs you can do (the most common reason for denial), you'll need to appeal to have your case heard in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ). There are certain factors the judge will and won't consider when deciding whether you can "adjust" to less demanding jobs.

Social Security will explain why you were denied in the "personalized explanation rationale" the agency will send you with your denial letter. If the rationale doesn't propose the specific types of jobs Social Security thinks you can do, request your file so that you can read the "technical rationale," which will include this information (see our article on reviewing your file before your disability hearing). Depending on whether you have physical or mental limitations, Social Security will typically state that you can do one or two light and/or unskilled jobs, such as surveillance system monitor, line operator, or cleaner.

If you don't agree that you can do the proposed work, you can appeal.

Raising Reasons You Can't Do the Proposed Jobs

At your appeal hearing, you can bring up reasons why you can't do each proposed job, until you rule them all out. However, Social Security will take into account only certain facts when considering whether you can do work, such as:

  • how old you are
  • how much schooling you've had
  • what skills you've learned at prior jobs
  • whether you could use the skills at the proposed jobs, and
  • whether your medical condition limits you from doing the proposed work.

Factors the Judge Won't Consider

Social Security will not consider the following factors, so don't waste the judge's time by raising these points at your appeal hearing:

  • There are no current job openings for the jobs you can do.
  • The only jobs you can do are part-time or seasonal.
  • You would have to relocate to take the only available jobs.
  • You don't think any employer would hire you.
  • You don't think you could pass a company physical.
  • The wages you would receive for doing the proposed work aren't enough to live on.
  • You have no way of getting to the proposed work.
  • You don't have a driver's license.
  • You no longer have the vocational license needed to do your work, and you no longer qualify for one.
  • You no longer no how to do your work because of technological changes in your industry, or
  • You don't want to do particular types of work.

Arguments the Judge Will Consider

Fortunately, there are acceptable ways you can politely challenge the vocational expert or the judge at the hearing if they say there are other jobs you can do. In addition to your age and education, claims examiners and administrative law judges must consider the following arguments for why you can't do a particular job.

  • Your physical limitations (such as an inability to bend and stoop) prevent you from doing one or more aspects of the proposed work.
  • You have mental limitations (such as an ability to concentrate) that don't allow you to perform the proposed type of work.
  • You don't have the skills needed to do the proposed type of work.
  • There isn't a significant number of jobs available locally or nationally for the proposed type of work.
  • The proposed jobs are located in only one or two areas of the U.S.

For more information on arguing these points to the judge, see our articles on proving you can't do your past work and ruling out other less demanding work.

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