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Chicago disability benefits lawyer, Social Security disability benefits, mental disorders, social functioning, major depressive disorderMental disorders often impair a person's social functioning. This is an important factor when applying for Social Security disability benefits, since one of the key questions agency officials must consider is whether an applicant has the “residual functional capacity” (RFC) to hold down a job, taking into account the limits on his or her social functioning. But as we often find when it comes to Social Security, the agency's administrative law judges (ALJs) are quick to minimize and dismiss concerns regarding social functioning—and mental disorders in general.

Court Cites Failure to Properly Consider Applicant's “Moderate Difficulties” in Social Settings

Consider a recent decision by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago. The Court ordered a new hearing for a woman in her mid-40s who first applied for disability benefits over five years ago. The woman—who we will identify here as the plaintiff—suffers from a number of physical and mental impairments, including major depressive disorder.

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Chicago Social Security disability attorney, disability benefits, medical evidence, disability claim, disability caseSocial Security disability regulations are quite clear about how an administrative law judge (ALJ) is supposed to treat medical evidence: “Regardless of its source, we will evaluate every medical opinion we receive.” This does not mean the ALJ must accept every medical opinion offered. Rather, the regulations require Social Security to consider any expert testimony regarding the applicant's disability and reconcile any potentially conflicting or contrary evidence. Still, the ALJ cannot simply refuse to acknowledge a medical opinion just because he or she disagrees with it.

Appeals Court Finds ALJ “Failed to Confront” Medical Evidence

No matter what the regulations say, however, many ALJs are far too eager to take shortcuts, especially when they have preemptively decided to deny a disability claim. Consider a recent decision by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago. A 67-year old man first applied for Social Security disability benefits five years ago. The plaintiff, a military veteran and former insurance agent, told Social Security he has been unable to work since 2011 due to a variety of severe impairments, including “his spinal arthritis, hip and knee pain, and impaired hearing.”

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Social Security disability applicants, Social Security disability, Cook County Social Security attorney, clinical depression, disability benefitsDepression is often overlooked as a disability. However, depression is one of the most common mental impairments cited by Social Security disability applicants. Depression is not simply “feeling sad.” It is a serious mood disorder that often renders victims unable to cope with the daily stresses of the workplace. In many cases, disability is simply one of several ailments that limit an applicant's ability to work or live his or her daily life.

Magistrate Orders 4th Disability Hearing for Illinois Woman With Depression

Sadly, getting Social Security to take depression as a disability seriously remains an uphill struggle for too many applicants. For example, a federal magistrate in Illinois recently ordered Social Security to conduct a new hearing for a woman suffering from depression who first applied for disability benefits nearly 10 years ago. In fact, this will be the fourth such hearing for the plaintiff, who has been unable to work since 2004 due to her depression and other impairments.

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