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IL disability lawyerYou would think in assessing an application for disability benefits, Social Security would give greater weight to the opinions of a specialist who actually treated the applicant over rather than a less-qualified doctor who only performed a casual examination. But the reality is Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) often prefer whatever testimony supports a finding the applicant is not disabled.

Magistrate Orders New Hearing After ALJ Credits Opinions of Family Doctor Over Orthopedic Surgeon

A recent decision from a federal magistrate judge here in Illinois, Cheryl G. v. Saul, helps to illustrate this problem. The plaintiff in this case previously worked as a legal secretary and school bus driver. But she has been unable to work in any capacity since 2010 as the result of a severe ankle injury that required multiple surgeries.

In fact, the plaintiff has had surgeries performed on her since 2010. One of the plaintiff's surgeons testified about her job prospects during a deposition in connection with the plaintiff's efforts to obtain workers' compensation benefits. In this deposition, the surgeon said the plaintiff "could have probably done some kind of sedentary duty if such an occupation existed in a bus driving facility." But she was unable to drive and would require "substantial breaks or half days to allow her to function." And due to the nature of the plaintiff's injuries, the surgeon said she could not sit for prolonged periods of time.

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IL disability attorneySocial Security disability insurance covers both physical and mental disorders that prevent a person from working. With respect to mental or “intellectual” disorders, an IQ test is often used to help Social Security determine whether or not someone is disabled. But while a low IQ score can provide useful evidence in supporting a disability claim, it is not by itself definitive proof of such a disability.

7th Circuit: Social Security Did Not Properly Consider Disability Applicant's Limited Math Abilities

Put another way, even if a disability applicant has a low IQ score, Social Security will still deny benefits if it believes the applicant can still perform “simple, repetitive work.” More to the point, Social Security must show there is such work that the applicant could actually perform given their intellectual limitations.

In a recent decision, Williams v. Saul, a federal appeals court held Social Security failed to make such a showing. The plaintiff in this case is a 25-year-old man with an IQ of 64. At a hearing before a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ), a medical expert testified the plaintiff's “math skills were at a second-grade level.” He gave incorrect answers to basic addition and multiplication problems, and could not perform division at all.

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IL disability lawyerThere are situations where Social Security may award disability benefits but fix a different onset date than alleged by the applicant. The alleged onset date is basically the day you became unable to work due to your physical or mental impairments. This date is important because, under Social Security regulations, a successful applicant can claim up to 12 months of retroactive benefits from the date of their application.

In other words, let's say Mary filed for disability benefits in January 2018 with an alleged onset date of June 2017. If Social Security subsequently grants the application and agrees with the onset date, Mary would be entitled to retroactive benefits starting in November 2017, or five months after the alleged onset date. (Social Security imposes a five-month waiting period for all disability benefits.)

Magistrate Finds Social Security's Reasons Unclear for Disagreeing with Plaintiff's Alleged Onset Date

If Social Security grants your application but disagrees with your alleged onset date, you can appeal the latter decision. Social Security must then show why it determined the applicant did not become legally disabled until a different date than alleged.

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