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IL disability lawyerThere are typically four stages to the Social Security disability application process. First, the applicant receives an initial determination of their eligibility. If the initial determination finds the applicant is not disabled, they may ask for reconsideration of that decision. If Social Security still rejects the claim, the applicant may request a formal hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). If the ALJ rejects the application, the fourth and final step is to ask for a review from the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council.

If even after all four steps, Social Security still denies a disability claim, the applicant can then seek “judicial review,” i.e., file a lawsuit in federal court. The Social Security Act expressly guarantees the right to judicial review of “any final decision … after a hearing.”

When Is a Social Security Decision Final?

The U.S. Supreme Court recently weighed in on what exactly the law means when it says “any final decision” can be appealed to the court. More precisely, if the Appeals Council dismisses a fourth-step appeal due to a procedural issue, is that a “final decision” that can be reviewed by a judge.

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IL disability attorneySocial Security disability decisions are supposed to be based on medical evidence, such as the findings of your treating physician. When there is a conflict in the medical evidence–i.e., different doctors reach different diagnoses–a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) is entitled to decide which evidence is more credible and consistent with the overall record. However, the ALJ cannot simply ignore uncontradicted medical evidence and substitute his or her own non-medical judgment.

Magistrate Rejects ALJ's Finding That Disabled Applicant Could Use Both of His Hands

When ALJs overstep their boundaries, a disability applicant may have recourse on appeal to a federal court if their claim for disability benefits was ultimately denied. Here is a recent example from here in Illinois. In this case, Andrew B. v. Berryhill, a former bus driver (the plaintiff) applied for disability benefits in 2014, citing a variety of impairments, including carpal tunnel syndrome, torn ligaments in his hands, and arthritis.

For purposes of the plaintiff's disability application, the critical time period was between November 2014 and January 2016. According to the expert opinion of the only doctor to examine the plaintiff during this period, the plaintiff “could only occasionally handle objects with both hands.” That is to say, the plaintiff could not “frequently” handle objects with his right hand due to his medical condition.

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Il disability lawyerWhen Social Security denies an application for disability benefits, the applicant has the right to appeal. The appeals process often includes a number of stages, including filing a formal petition for review with a federal judge, who has the authority to order Social Security to conduct a new hearing on your application.

Judge: ALJ Used “Template” Language, Failed to Explain Reasons for Rejecting Disability Claim

Your chances on appeal are much stronger if you are represented by an experienced Social Security disability attorney. But there are cases where a disability applicant has represented themselves and still managed to prevail on appeal. In fact, it happened just recently to a woman from right here in Illinois.

The plaintiff in this case first applied for disability benefits six years ago, citing her inability to work due to diabetes and blindness in one eye. A Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) held a hearing on the plaintiff's application in 2016. After hearing the plaintiff's testimony and other evidence, however, the ALJ denied the application for benefits.

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