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IL disability attorneyContrary to what some people might think, anxiety and depression are not just euphemisms for “having a bad day.” They are serious mental health disorders. And in severe cases, anxiety and depression can make it impossible for a person to hold down a full-time job–a scenario that may qualify that individual for Social Security disability benefits.

Magistrate Orders New Hearing Due to ALJ's “Distorted Picture” of the Evidence

Of course, it does not help when Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) fail to properly consider or assess evidence of an applicant's depression and anxiety. Consider this recent disability case from here in Illinois, John B. v. Saul. Here, a federal magistrate judge ordered Social Security to conduct a new disability hearing due to “clear factual errors” made by the ALJ the first time around.

The plaintiff in this case filed for disability benefits nearly five years ago. The plaintiff first started experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety in 2010. The plaintiff's treating psychiatrist later said in response to a Social Security questionnaire that the plaintiff “had extreme limitations in social functioning and marked limitations in concentration, persistence or pace.” This indicated the plaintiff met the legal standard for disability.

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IL disability lawyerStrictly speaking, illiteracy is not a disability according to Social Security regulations. In other words, just because a person is unable to read or write, that does not necessarily mean they are incapable of working. But when a person suffers from one or more medical conditions that restrict their ability to work, illiteracy is a factor that Social Security needs to consider when assessing that person's “vocational profile,” i.e., the types of jobs, if any, they can perform despite their impairments.

Magistrate: Using Social Media Does Not Prove You Are Literate

A recent decision from a federal magistrate here in Illinois, Rodney C. v. Saul, illustrates how Social Security is supposed to account for a disability applicant's illiteracy.

The plaintiff in this case applies for disability benefits, citing his degenerative disc disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, and other impairments. After conducting a hearing, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) determined the applicant did not meet the legal standard for disability. After Social Security upheld the ALJ's ruling, the plaintiff sought judicial review with the magistrate.

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IL disability lawyerIn assessing disability claims, Social Security looks at whether or not you have an “impairment” that is considered “severe” enough to prevent you from working. A Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) is also expected to consider symptoms that, while not qualifying impairments in and of themselves, may exacerbate such an impairment. In particular, the ALJ needs to determine how your symptoms and impairments, taken as a whole, may restrict the type of work you are able to perform, if any.

Social Security Failed to Consider Leg Weakness in Assessing Illinois Woman's Disability Claim

To illustrate these principles in greater detail, here is a recent case, Ramona G. v. Saul, where the ALJ failed to properly consider an applicant's symptoms. The plaintiff, in this case, applies for disability benefits three years ago. The main issue raised in the plaintiff's application was her back impairment. In conjunction with this impairment, the plaintiff also presented medical evidence that she suffered from weakness in her right leg.

The ALJ determined that this leg weakness was not itself a “medically determinable impairment” under Social Security regulations. The ALJ went on to deny the plaintiff's application for disability benefits. In response, the plaintiff filed for judicial review with an Illinois federal magistrate judge.

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