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IL disability lawyerEpilepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system that frequently leads to seizures and other unusual behaviors, such as loss of awareness. And while many people are able to lead a full, active life with epilepsy, there are cases where the symptoms may be so severe as to render an individual unable to work. In such circumstances, epilepsy may qualify as a disability for Social Security purposes.

Court of Appeals: Social Security Improperly Discounted Views of Disability Applicant's Primary Care Doctor

Of course, Social Security may attempt to minimize or disregard the impact of epilepsy on a disability applicant. Although Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) are normally expected to give great weight to the medical conclusions of a disability applicant's treating physician, we often see cases where just the opposite occurs: The ALJ will discount the treating physician's views without offering sufficient reasons for doing so.

Such practices may be commonplace at Social Security, but they are in direct contravention of the law. For example, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago recently ordered Social Security to conduct a new disability hearing for a 27-year-old applicant (the plaintiff) who filed for benefits on the basis of his epilepsy. The plaintiff's primary care physician explained that despite medication, the plaintiff suffered from “chronic fatigue, memory loss and the need to lie down frequently.” It was the primary care physician's expert opinion that the plaintiff's epileptic seizures had caused “brain damage” and that even if the plaintiff could find work he would “need frequent breaks and miss work frequently because of his symptoms.”

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IL disability attorneyWe have seen a number of Social Security disability cases here in Illinois recently where the government has failed to properly account for an applicant's limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace (CPP). As defined by Social Security's own regulations, CPP refers to a person's “ability to sustain focused attention sufficiently long to permit the timely completion of tasks commonly found in work settings.” If an applicant's mental health impairments limit their CPP to the point where they cannot reasonably function in any work setting, they are generally entitled to receive disability benefits.

Appeals Court: ALJ Improperly Ignored Answer to Hypothetical Question

In the most recent decision from the Chicago-based U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to address CPP limitations, Crump v. Saul, Social Security was once again faulted for its inadequate approach to this subject.

As described by the Court, the plaintiff in this case “has a long history of mental health impairments,” notably bipolar disorder. During a hearing before a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ), the plaintiff “testified that she has 'too many thoughts at one time' and 'can't focus' on what she is supposed to be doing.” Despite acknowledging the plaintiff had “moderate” CPP limitations, however, the ALJ determined she did not meet the legal standard for disabled.

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IL disability attorneyIn a recent post, we discussed a U.S. Supreme Court decision that held a vocational expert who testifies at a Social Security disability benefits hearing is not “categorically” required to disclose the actual data supporting their analysis. Some courts, including those here in Illinois, had previously enforced such a categorical rule. But under the Supreme Court's decision, Biestek v. Berryhill, Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) have wide discretion to decide whether or not such data is relevant to a particular case.

Supreme Court Ruling Means Applicants Cannot Simply “Demand” Access to Data

The Chicago-based U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently applied Biestek to reject an unsuccessful disability applicant's request for a new hearing. The plaintiff in this case, Krell v. Saul, argued the ALJ erred by refusing to issue a subpoena to the vocational expert who testified at his disability hearing.

The plaintiff is a Wisconsin man who was previously employed as an ironworker. He filed for disability benefits due to a knee impairment. Prior to a 2014 hearing, the plaintiff's attorney asked the ALJ overseeing the case to issue a subpoena for “certain documents” upon which the vocational expert who was scheduled to testify “may rely” on in forming their opinions. The attorney explained such documents were necessary to facilitate the plaintiff's ability to properly cross-examine the expert.

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