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I Can Still Do Some Household Chores. Am I Qualified for Social Security Disability Benefits?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) looks at many pieces of information when deciding whether or not you meet the requirements for Social Security disability benefits. The SSA reviews your medical records. In addition, the SSA requires you to complete forms which ask questions about the activities you do during the day (“activities of daily living” or “ADL’s”). 

When you apply for Social Security disability benefits you are referred to as a “claimant.” If your claim is not awarded at the initial level or the next level (known as “reconsideration”), a judge will take a fresh look at your claim, if you appeal, and request a hearing. In addition to reviewing your medical records, the judge listens to your testimony and considers your credibility. If, for example, you state you are severely limited in your physical activities, but you also state that you vacuum, do laundry, and go to the grocery store, the judge may decide you are only partially credible.

There was a case where a judge listened to the claimant’s testimony at hearing and decided the claimant was not credible. The claimant in this case applied for Social Security disability benefits in February 2011. Medical reports showed that the claimant had lesions on her brain, and weakness affecting her left side, as well as depression, and asthma. However, the SSA denied her initial application in May 2011, and her subsequent request for reconsideration. She appealed, requested a hearing, and it was held in January 2013. 

In this case, even though the claimant’s medical records stated she had moderate cognitive deficits, as well as depression, anxiety, and possible organic brain syndrome, the judge denied benefits for the claimant and opined the claimant could work at the light exertional level. She based her decision on a report of a doctor who recommended exercise for the claimant. Additionally the judge concluded since the claimant could sit and crochet, play cards, watch movies, dress, bathe, and do light house work, she could maintain a job at the light level. Incidentally, it is expected a person who is capable of working at the light exertional level can lift 20 pounds throughout the work day, and stand and/or walk up to six of eight hours per day. 

The judge’s decision did not demonstrate a connection between the activities the claimant said she could do, and how the activities related to being able to stand and/or walk six hours per day at a job. On appeal, the Court stated the judge must build a “logical bridge” between the evidence and her conclusion. Furthermore, the judge “cannot simply cherry-pick facts that support a finding of non-disability while ignoring evidence that points to a disability finding.” 

The critical differences between activities of daily living and activities in a full-time job are that a person has more flexibility in scheduling the former than the latter, can get help from other persons  . . . , and is not held to a minimum standard of performance, as she would be by an employer. The failure to recognize these difference is a recurrent, and deplorable feature of opinions by administrative law judges in Social Security disability cases.

The SSA hearing judge did not take into account that activities of daily living are done at the Claimant’s chosen pace, and/or with help from others. Therefore, since the judge did not take this into account, as well as the requirements for standing and/or walking for a job at the light exertional level, the judge committed legal error. Therefore, the decision was reversed, and the claim sent back for a new hearing.