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IL disability lawyerDecisions regarding Social Security disability applications are supposed to be based on medical evidence. That is, your treating doctor's medical conclusions are normally expected to be given great weight by a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ). But in far too many cases, we find the ALJ taking it upon themselves to “play doctor” and ignore or discount the treating physician's views.

Magistrate: Social Security “Mischaracterized” Surgeon's Findings in Denying Disability Application

In some cases, an ALJ may outright misrepresent what the treating physician found. This is not okay. To the contrary, it violates Social Security regulations and entitles an unsuccessful applicant to a new hearing on their claim.

This is precisely what happened to one Illinois disability benefits applicant in a recent case, Lisa AB v. Commissioner of Social Security. The plaintiff in this case has not worked since 2012 because of her inability to use her hands. The plaintiff had a history of severe carpal tunnel syndrome that required surgery.

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IL disability lawyerSocial Security administrative law judges (ALJs) are expected to rely on medical evidence when assessing an application for disability benefits. The most critical form of medical evidence comes from the applicant's own treating physicians. But the ALJ may also consider other forms of evidence, including something known as a GAF score.

GAF stands for the “Global Assessment of Function.” It is a rating system used to assess a disability applicant's mental function on a 1 to 100 scale. A higher score typically indicates a higher degree of mental functioning.

Now, a GAF score is simply a doctor's opinion regarding the overall impact of an applicant's mental disorders at a given time. It is not an objective diagnostic test. And an ALJ is not allowed to grant or deny disability benefits based solely–or even primarily–on a GAF score. Rather, it is simply one piece of information the ALJ may consider as part of an applicant's overall case.

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IL disability attorneyIn a recent post, we discussed a U.S. Supreme Court decision that held a vocational expert who testifies at a Social Security disability benefits hearing is not “categorically” required to disclose the actual data supporting their analysis. Some courts, including those here in Illinois, had previously enforced such a categorical rule. But under the Supreme Court's decision, Biestek v. Berryhill, Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) have wide discretion to decide whether or not such data is relevant to a particular case.

Supreme Court Ruling Means Applicants Cannot Simply “Demand” Access to Data

The Chicago-based U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently applied Biestek to reject an unsuccessful disability applicant's request for a new hearing. The plaintiff in this case, Krell v. Saul, argued the ALJ erred by refusing to issue a subpoena to the vocational expert who testified at his disability hearing.

The plaintiff is a Wisconsin man who was previously employed as an ironworker. He filed for disability benefits due to a knee impairment. Prior to a 2014 hearing, the plaintiff's attorney asked the ALJ overseeing the case to issue a subpoena for “certain documents” upon which the vocational expert who was scheduled to testify “may rely” on in forming their opinions. The attorney explained such documents were necessary to facilitate the plaintiff's ability to properly cross-examine the expert.

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