Symptoms, Exertional and Nonexertional Impairments in SSDI and SSI Cases - Melvin
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Symptoms, Exertional and Nonexertional Impairments in SSDI and SSI Cases

by Melvin Cook

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SSR 96-4p Summary and Commentary

Social Security’s definition of disability is the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity existing in significant numbers in the national economy due to a medical impairment or impairments.

Symptoms are defined as an individual’s description or perception of how an impairment affects him or her. They are subjective manifestations of the impairment, such as pain, nervousness, fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, etc.

Symptoms alone cannot establish the existence of a severe medically determinable impairment. Rather, there must be objective medical evidence (i.e., medical signs and laboratory findings) before an adjudicator can find a severe impairment for purposes of step 2 of the sequential evaluation process. Thus, no matter how many symptoms an individual alleges, or how genuine they appear to be, symptoms without medical signs or laboratory findings cannot establish a disability. In other words, such a claim must be denied at step 2 of the sequential evaluation process.

This makes sense given that there must be a reasonable medical basis for a decision of disability.

I have seldom if ever handled any cases where a person alleges symptoms alone, in the absence of medical signs and/or laboratory findings that are likely to produce those symptoms. In fact, I cannot think of a single one, although I am sure there are such claims. In my experience, when a person needs to apply for disability benefits, they are almost always experiencing severe medical issues that have been objectively verified by treatment history.

Once the existence of a medically determinable impairment that is likely to produce the symptoms alleged has been established, an adjudicator must then consider the allegations of the intensity and persistence of the symptoms in order to determine their functionally limiting effects.

The social security regulations divide functional limitations into three basic categories: exertional, non-exertional, and a combination of exertional and nonexertional.

Exertional limitations relate to the strength demands of a job. These are the seven basic activities of walking, sitting, standing, lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling.

Non-exertional limitations are all other physical limitations that are not defined as exertional, and all mental limitations. Such limitations could include restrictions on concentration, for example, or the ability to persist in a task on a sustained basis sufficient to maintain full-time work.

Oftentimes, a person with objectively verifiable medical impairments may have a combination of exertional and nonexertional limitations. Symptoms in themselves are not exertional or non-exertional. Rather, symptoms can cause limitations that are classified as either exertional, non-exertional, or both.

It is the nature of the limitations or restrictions resulting from the symptoms that will determine whether or not the social security “grids”, or tables found in appendix 2 of the regulations, will direct a decision of “disabled” or “not disabled” or be used as a framework for making a decision.

In other words, if a person’s vocational and limitations profile fits squarely within one of the categories in the so-called “grids”, then a decision is directed one way or another.

However, if a person’s profile including limitations and restrictions do not fit squarely within the “grids”, then the “grids” are used as a framework for making a decision on disability.

The “grids” are so nicknamed because they set forth various profile in tables with columns and rows, in which various factors are listed included age, education, and work experience. They are tables for medium, light, and sedentary work.

This material should not be construed as legal advice for any particular fact situation, but is intended for general informational purposes only. For advice specific to any individual situation, an experienced attorney should be contacted.

Contact a Salt Lake City Attorney Committed to Protecting Your Rights

When it comes the family law and social security disability, each client and case is different. It is also important to select an attorney with the experience, skills and professionalism required to address your legal issues. To learn more, contact the Salt Lake City law offices of Melvin A. Cook and schedule an initial consultation to discuss your case.

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