It's Not Just How Long You Can Sit or Stand: Oversimplifying Medical-Vocational Requirements in Social Security Disability Claims Fails to Give the Whole Story

May 06,2008
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Often, victory in a Social Security Disability case comes down to how much longer than two hours a claimant can stand in an eight-hour day. In certain cases involving claimants over the age of 50, we as practitioners take advantage of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines to show that while an older individual may be physically capable of engaging in alternate work activity, his or her age, education, and past work experience make it impossible or unrealistic for that individual to adjust to that kind of work.
In my experience, Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) frequently take advantage of the huge exertional differences between “sedentary” and “light” work – namely, the standing requirements – to deny claims under the Medical-Vocational Guidelines.
The Social Security Regulations classify how strenuous a job is and categorize it as anywhere from sedentary (i.e. a desk job with little or no lifting) to heavy (i.e. labor-heavy jobs requiring heavy lifting and little to no sitting). For the most part, the jobs at the heavier end of the spectrum differ only in terms of how much lifting is required. For example, the difference between a “medium” job and a “heavy” job is merely a 25-pound lifting requirement, as both require a six-hour daily standing and walking requirement.
Unfortunately, a disabled individual’s abilities are frequently more varied than job classifications consider. An ALJ’s decision to grant disability payments can often come down to whether he or she feels a claimant can sit for two or six hours in a workday. I’ve seen far too much abuse in this respect. For example, if a disabled individual can sit for only four hours in an eight hour day, it is more likely that the claimant will be found disabled under the Medical Vocational Guidelines. However, ALJs often view claimants’ ability to stand for more than two hours as indicative of an ability to stand for six hours – a tremendous leap.
It is important for practitioners to be aware that evidence showing a claimant’s ability to stand or walk for more than two hours if he or she is over 50 will not necessarily prevent a finding of disability. What is essential is stressing the definition of the exertional demands of certain levels of work. Likewise, potential claimants over the age of 50 should be aware that they may still be entitled to disability benefits depending on their past work, even if they feel that they could do some lighter duty job.
Brian M. Anson, Esq.