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Can Social Security Ignore the Opinions of a Podiatrist Because She Is Not a “Medical Doctor?”

Posted on in Social Security Disability Medical Conditions

IL disability lawyerAs a general rule, your own doctor knows your medical condition best. In the context of a Social Security disability benefits hearing, an administrative law judge (ALJ) is therefore required to give your doctor's views “controlling weight,” so long as the doctor's opinions are supported by the available medical evidence. If the ALJ chooses to discount or disregard your doctor's diagnosis, the ALJ must provide “good reasons” for that decision, which also must be supported by evidence.

Christopher C. v. Saul

What the ALJ may not do is misrepresent the evidence in order to discredit your doctor's testimony. Unfortunately, this happens more than Social Security would like to admit. Just recently, an Illinois federal magistrate judge ordered Social Security to conduct a new disability hearing precisely because an ALJ failed to follow the rules in assessing a treating physician's views.

The plaintiff in this case, Christopher C. v. Saul, suffers from physical impairments related to his left ankle and obstructive pulmonary disease. The plaintiff's treating podiatrist said that as a result of the plaintiff's impairments, he would “need to elevate his leg just above hip level about 20 to 50 percent of an eight-hour workday due to edema, pain, and inflammation.” The plaintiff would also require a cane to stand and walk and could not lift more than 10 pounds. He was also incapable of stooping, bending, crouching, squatting, or climbing stairs or ladders.

The ALJ only gave the podiatrist's conclusions “minimal weight” and denied the plaintiff's application for disability benefits. In particular, the ALJ believed the podiatrist's statement that the plaintiff would need to elevate his leg for 20 to 50 percent of the workday was “not supported by her treatment notes.” As for the other limitations, the ALJ said those fell “outside the scope of her podiatry specialty.”

The magistrate said the ALJ's analysis was insufficient. First, the ALJ's statement regarding the alleged inconsistency between the podiatrist's conclusions and her treatment notes was “at worst outright incorrect or at the very least represents impermissible doctor playing.” The podiatrist's notes did, in fact, support her conclusions. And even if there was some “inconsistency” with the notes, the magistrate said that alone did not undermine the treating physician's “ultimate opinion as to plaintiff's ability to work.”

The ALJ also seemed to disregard the views of the podiatrist because she “specializes in the ankle and foot but is not a medical doctor.” Strictly speaking, the magistrate said this was not relevant. Social Security regulations state that “a licensed podiatrist is an acceptable medical source for establishing that plaintiff suffers from impairments related to her feet and ankles.” So that was not grounds for giving the podiatrist's medical findings “minimal weight.”

Speak with a Cook County Social Security Disability Lawyer Today

Social Security is required to base its disability decisions on medical evidence, not the personal views of its administrative law judges. A qualified Chicago disability benefits attorney can help make sure the government follows its own rules. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 today if you are thinking about applying for disability and would like to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team.




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