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Do My Frequent Migraines Qualify Me for Disability?

Posted by on in Social Security Disability

Chicago Social Security lawyer, frequent migraines, disability qualifications, disability benefits application, deny disability benefitsMigraines are more than a simple headache. A migraine attack may cause disabling pain that lasts for hours or even days. If you suffer from frequent migraines that restrict your ability to work, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.

Social Security Ordered to Reconsider Claim of Illinois Man

Social Security officials may be quick to dismiss migraines as nothing more than the occasional headache. It is easy to dismiss a disability where the effects are not externally obvious. But migraines and severe headaches are serious medical impairments, and agency officials cannot simply ignore them.

Consider a recent Illinois case on point. The plaintiff in this case, a man in his late 60s, filed for disability benefits five years ago. About a year prior to filing, he suffered a “subarachnoid hemorrhage of the brain of unknown origin,” according to medical records. Since that time he has consistently reported severe headaches, as well as other symptoms, to his treating physicians. During one exam he told a doctor that the frequent headaches “made him feel like his head will explode.”

At a hearing before a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ), a medical expert assessed the plaintiff's potential disability under the agency's listing for epilepsy. (This listing was superseded by new rules in 2016 but still applies to older cases.) The expert said the plaintiff “may have met” the listing's requirement of more than one severe headache per week since his initial brain hemorrhage.

The ALJ ultimately rejected the plaintiff's application for disability benefits, however, finding he did not meet the qualifications for the epilepsy listing. On appeal, a federal magistrate judge found “the ALJ's opinion is not supported by substantial evidence.” More precisely, the magistrate said the ALJ's “curt analysis” of the plaintiff's headaches “fell short” of what was required by law.

For one thing, the ALJ failed to properly question the medical expert, whose testimony was incomplete on the duration and severity of the plaintiff's headaches. The prior epilepsy listing required the severe, daily headaches last for a period of at least one year. The expert's testimony on this point was vague, according to the magistrate, and the ALJ should have probed “for specifics.”

More problematic was the ALJ's decision to “gloss over and minimize [plaintiff's] complaints to treating physicians of frequent and limiting headaches for the entire two year period following his brain hemorrhage.” Indeed, the magistrate said the ALJ simply ignored the plaintiff's headache complaints and instead “chose to zero in on positive treatments notes” during brief periods of improvement. Such “cherry picking” of medical evidence is against the law. Accordingly, the magistrate returned the case to Social Security for a new hearing to address these deficiencies.

Get Help From a Chicago Disability Benefits Lawyer

Social Security officials will often look for any excuse they can find to deny an application for disability benefits. Do not let the agency run roughshod over your legal rights. If you are disabled and need assistance from a qualified Chicago Social Security lawyer, call the offices of Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 today.


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