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Administrative Law Judge - Do they assess functional capacity?

Recently on our disability forum a claimant asked, “Will the Administrative Law Judge assess my functional capacity to determine if I am disabled?”

This is a great question because many SSDI and SSI claimants are not quite sure exactly what will happen at the disability hearing and how you can prove you are disabled. This blog will address what you will need to do for your hearing and how the Administrative Law Judge will make their decision.

Filing for a SSI or SSDI hearing


If you have been denied at the reconsideration level for either SSI or SSDI you have 60 days from the date of the denial letter to request a disability hearing. Unfortunately, the wait for a hearing could be as long as a year in some parts of the country. The good news is this will give you plenty of time to prepare.



Most experts recommend hiring a disability lawyer. Disability lawyers will only get paid if you win so there are no upfront costs. If you hire a lawyer they will prepare your SSDI or SSI case for the hearing, review your medical records and tell you if you need to get more medical evidence to prove your case.

One of the most important steps, if you have been waiting a long time for a hearing, is to make sure your judge has recent medical records which clearly state your limitations to work. Otherwise, the judge may be making their decision based on information which does not clearly outline your current work limitations.

What if you do not hire a SSI or SSDI disability lawyer?


If you choose not to hire a lawyer it is up to you to review the disability hearing process. Make sure you understand what you will have to prove and be able to argue why you may have limitations to perform certain types of jobs. There may be a job expert at the hearing that will present jobs they think you can do. If you do not think you can work any type of sedentary or light work consider what evidence you would need to prove this claim.

How does the Administrative Law Judge make their decision?


The Social Security Administration will determine you are disabled either by determining your condition is as severe as a condition on the SSA Listing of Impairments or through a medical vocational allowance.

The truth of the matter is that if your condition met or exceeded a listing you most likely would not have been denied and you would not be at the hearing. So unless you can prove to the administrative law judge your condition meets or exceeds a listing you will be arguing that you do not have the functional capacity to work.

To do this you need to understand how the SSA classifies work: heavy, medium, and light, sedentary. After you understand these definitions, make sure your medical information clearly outlines why you cannot do this type of work. For instance, according to the SSA light work “involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds. To be considered capable of performing a full or wide range of light work, you must have the ability to do substantially all of these activities.”

So how do you prove you do not have the functional capacity to do light work? Ideally, your medical records would state your limitations. For instance, by saying you cannot lift or carry more than five pounds.

If you are a young applicant under the age of 55 it will be very difficult to prove that you cannot do any type of sedentary job, especially if you have a high education.

Talk to a disability lawyer if you have additional questions about proving you cannot work any type of job.
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