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Can Social Security Ignore My Psychiatrist's Diagnosis of My Mental Disorders?

Posted on in Social Security Disability Medical Conditions

IL disability lawyerSocial Security officials often deny applications for disability benefits  because they fail to properly consider all of the available medical evidence. This includes not just evidence regarding an applicant's physical condition, but also their mental state. That is to say, Social Security may incorrectly–and illegally–discount the expert opinions of a disability applicant's treating psychiatrist.

Mischler v. Berryhill

The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago recently addressed such a case. The plaintiff here is a 47-year-old woman who suffers from a number of physical and mental impairments, including depression. More than five years ago, the plaintiff applied for disability benefits.

Before a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ), the plaintiff presented evidence that she was first diagnosed with major depressive disorder in 2001. As is often the case with psychiatric disorders, the plaintiff's symptoms ebbed and flowed over time. In 2008, she required hospitalization for her depression. And starting in 2003, she began seeing a psychiatrist.

The psychiatrist's opinions were a focal point at the disability hearing. In a 2015 evaluation, the psychiatrist concluded the plaintiff had “marked” limitations with respect to “relating to coworkers, dealing with the public and work stresses, functioning independently,” and so forth. As a result, the psychiatrist said the plaintiff could “work regularly for one to two hours a day” at most.

The ALJ, however, gave “little weight” to the psychiatrist's views and ultimately denied the plaintiff's application for disability benefits. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit held the ALJ's conclusions were not supported by “substantial evidence” and returned the plaintiff's application to Social Security for a new hearing.

Among other problems, the Seventh Circuit said the ALJ “did not provide a good reason for refusing to give controlling weight” to the psychiatrist's views of the plaintiff's mental impairments. The ALJ maintained there were “too many discrepancies” between the psychiatrist's conclusions and her treatment notes regarding the plaintiff. The Seventh Circuit did not see the evidence that way.

For one thing, the plaintiff and the psychiatrist had a long treatment relationship, dating back to at least 2003. The ALJ pointed to an alleged gap in the plaintiff's treatment as a means of undercutting this relationship. But as the Court of Appeals noted, there was no specific information regarding this purported gap. To the contrary, it was “undisputed” that the psychiatrist treated the plaintiff “or many years and had nearly monthly contact with her for more than a year before completing the assessment” for Social Security, which weighed “heavily in favor of affording [the psychiatrist's] opinion great, if not controlling, weight.”

Speak with an Illinois Disability Benefits Lawyer Today

Social Security often tries to point to “gaps” in a disability applicant's medical treatment, real or imaginary, as a means of discounting inconvenient evidence. Do not let them get away with this. A qualified Chicago Social Security disability attorney can assist you with preparing and presenting your case to the ALJ, and if necessary handling an appeal on your behalf. Call Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 today to schedule a free, in-office consultation.




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