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Can Social Security Ignore My Pain?

Posted on in Denied Social Security Benefits

Chicago Social Security Disability LawyersSocial Security Disability cases often turn on agency officials’ subjective views of the applicant’s “credibility.” This is a particular issue when the applicant’s inability to work is due to chronic pain. Put bluntly, Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) have a history of disregarding complaints of pain as faking or exaggeration on the part of the applicant.

Social Security Chided Again for Equating Life Activities With Employment

The law, however, at least as it is supposed to be applied in Illinois, is that Social Security cannot simply ignore an applicant’s testimony regarding their pain. Nor can Social Security point to evidence the applicant is capable of performing daily “life activities” as conclusive proof that he or she can hold down a physically demanding full-time job.

A recent decision by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago illustrates how Social Security has seemingly yet to grasp these basic concepts. The applicant in this case previously worked as the manager of a retail store. Nine years ago, she was injured on the job “when a customer struck her in the back with a shopping cart,” according to court records.

The applicant sought disability benefits, but Social Security denied her claim. Although an ALJ found the applicant suffered from a number of “severe impairments,” including degenerative disc disease in her back, asthma, and obesity, he nevertheless declared she was not legally disabled. Among other reasons, the ALJ held the applicant’s statements regarding her ability to work lacked credibility.

The applicant testified that she suffered from chronic back pain. The ALJ disregarded this testimony, pointing to the fact the applicant could still “do light housework, read, take care of her pets, perform personal care activities, drive her car, and shop for groceries.” These “daily activities” constituted “strong evidence,” according to the ALJ that the applicant could in fact work.

But, the Seventh Circuit disagreed. The Court ordered Social Security to reconsider the applicant’s case. In doing so, the Seventh Circuit reiterated its long-held view that Social Security should not equate the ability to perform daily activities with the physical ability to perform a full-time job: “[W]ithout acknowledging the differences between the demands of such activities and those of a full-time job, the ALJ was not entitled to use [the applicant’s] successful performance of life activities as a basis to determine that her claims of a disabling condition were not credible.”

Nor could the ALJ disregard the applicant’s “subjective accounts” of her pain without explanation. In prior cases, the Seventh Circuit has expressly instructed Social Security to “consider subjective complaints of pain if a claimant has established a medically determined impairment that could reasonably be expected to produce the pain.”

Get Help From an Illinois Social Security Disability Attorney

It is unlikely this will be the last time the Seventh Circuit has to remind Social Security of its duty to follow the law. If you are considering applying for disability benefits, it is therefore important you have experienced legal help. If you need to speak with a qualified Chicago disability benefits lawyer, contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, right away.



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