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Accounting for Medical Impairments When Assessing a Disability Claim

 Posted on November 21, 2018 in Social Security Disability Medical Conditions

Illinois social security disability lawyer proving medical impairmentOne of the basic responsibilities of Social Security when assessing a claim for disability benefits is to consider the effects of an applicant's medical impairments on their ability to work. Even if Social Security ultimately determines the effects do not rise to the level of a legally qualifying disability, the agency must still perform a proper assessment. In other words, Social Security cannot simply ignore a documented medical impairment altogether.

SSA Failed to Consider Effects of Disability Applicant's Edema

Consider this recent decision by a federal judge here in Illinois. The Social Security Administration denied a plaintiff's application for disability benefits. Before an administrative law judge (ALJ), the plaintiff presented medical evidence documenting the following impairments: HIV, obesity, edema, and lymphedema. The latter two refer to excess swelling in the plaintiff's left leg.

In fact, the plaintiff presented an extensive treatment history related to her edema. Basically, the condition requires her to “elevate her left leg throughout the day,” according to court records. Yet during the plaintiff's Social Security hearing, the ALJ never bothered to consider the impact of edema on the plaintiff's ability to work. 

Of particular note, the ALJ questioned a vocational expert (VE) during the hearing. This is standard practice. An ALJ will pose several “hypothetical” scenarios to the VE, e.g., “What kind of jobs could a person perform given this restriction?” Here, the ALJ posed at least three hypothetical scenarios to the VE, but none of them mentioned the presence of edema or the need of an employee to keep her leg elevated throughout the workday. 

On appeal, a federal magistrate judge said the ALJ erred in not making any effort to “consider the effects of Plaintiff's edema or lymphedema.” There was no question the plaintiff had both conditions–the medical evidence presented to the ALJ established as much. And while that does not mean the plaintiff's particular case of edema or lymphedema is disabling within the legal meaning of that word, the ALJ still needs to “build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to the conclusion.” At a bare minimum, the magistrate said the ALJ should have included edema and lymphedema in the hypothetical scenarios posed to the vocational expert. The magistrate therefore returned the case to Social Security for a new hearing.

Contact a Cook County Social Security Disability Attorney Today

Sometimes, when Social Security can't come up with a good reason to deny disability benefits, it simply doesn't bother to give a reason at all. That is simply unacceptable. As a disability applicant, you have certain rights the Social Security Administration must respect. A qualified Chicago disability benefits lawyer can help ensure you are treated with respect–and more importantly, that Social Security actually follows the law. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team today to discuss your Social Security application. 



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