The ALJs Written Opinion
After your hearing with the ALJ, you will receive a decision in the mail. The decision of approval or denial will also come with an explanation of how the decision was reached. There is a five-step evaluation process that is followed as a judge makes the decision on your case. The facts of your case are considered in each of these five steps:
- The first step is considering your monthly earnings. If you are currently working in a substantial gainful activity (SGA) earning over $1,010 monthly, then you will be denied unless the judge agrees that your attempt at working was unsuccessful. If you are not able to perform work of any type the judge will go on to step two.
- The second step is to classify your impairments. The classifications are either severe or not severe. A severe impairment is anything that prohibits basic work-related activities like standing, bending, lifting, getting along with others, or sitting for long periods of time, etc. The ALJ will describe why or why not your impairment is considered severe or not. It is possible to have a claim that is based on multiple impairments. If that is the case then some of them may be considered severe and others not severe. If your impairment(s) are considered not severe then you will be denied your claim. You must have at least one severe impairment for your claim to continue to the third step.
- The third step is if you have an impairment that meets the one of the qualifying medical conditions. If you have a condition that equals a condition in the “blue book” of listed impairments, then you would continue on to step four. Your own medical records may be cited as reason that your impairment was considered to meet or not meet a qualified listing. If your condition does not meet a listing then the ALJ will explain why it does not meet a condition and will continue on to step number four.
- Step four of the decision considers your past work experience, responsibilities, how long you were with your employer, and the reason that you no longer work in that position. The opinion of the Vocational Expert may be sited as to whether or not the expert felt you could still do your former job or not. If the ALJ believes that you are still capable of doing your past work, you will be denied. If the ALJ decides that you can no longer do your previous job the decision will go onto the final step.
- The final step is where the ALJ gives an overview of your case from your documented symptoms, opinions of your doctors and/or medical experts, laboratory reports or imaging results as well as the answers that you gave to questions during your hearing concerning your condition. If the ALJ felt there were inconsistencies in your records or testimony then it will be stated in this section and it will also say if this affected the outcome. The ALJ will state the kinds of work that you would be able to do or what you would not be able to do as well as the possibility that you may be trained to do other work based on other jobs you have had, education and your age. The judge could also list jobs that are believed to be within your ability to perform or if there are no jobs that you would be able to hold.