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IL disability lawyerMental disorders often pose unique challenges for individuals seeking Social Security disability benefits. It is not always easy to measure the impact of a mental impairment in the same way as a physical limitation. This is why Social Security regulations require agency officials to consider “any other relevant evidence” in addition to an applicant's medical records when assessing the severity of a mental impairment.

Federal Appeals Court Orders New Disability Hearing After Social Security Judge Ignores Evidence

Of course, Social Security has a habit of not always following its own regulations. A recent example of this came in a decision from the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago, Dunn v. Saul. The plaintiff in this case held down a number of jobs through 2012, at which point he claimed he could no longer work due to his “memory loss.”

A Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) subsequently reviewed the plaintiff's application and determined his memory loss was not “severe” enough to justify an award of disability benefits. On appeal to the Seventh Circuit, the plaintiff argued the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence. The appeals court agreed with the plaintiff and returned the case to Social Security for a new hearing.

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IL disability lawyerStrictly speaking, illiteracy is not a disability according to Social Security regulations. In other words, just because a person is unable to read or write, that does not necessarily mean they are incapable of working. But when a person suffers from one or more medical conditions that restrict their ability to work, illiteracy is a factor that Social Security needs to consider when assessing that person's “vocational profile,” i.e., the types of jobs, if any, they can perform despite their impairments.

Magistrate: Using Social Media Does Not Prove You Are Literate

A recent decision from a federal magistrate here in Illinois, Rodney C. v. Saul, illustrates how Social Security is supposed to account for a disability applicant's illiteracy.

The plaintiff in this case applies for disability benefits, citing his degenerative disc disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, and other impairments. After conducting a hearing, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) determined the applicant did not meet the legal standard for disability. After Social Security upheld the ALJ's ruling, the plaintiff sought judicial review with the magistrate.

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IL disability lawyerEarlier this year we discussed a major U.S. Supreme Court ruling that impacts the rights of individuals applying for Social Security disability benefits. In Biestek v. Berryhill, the Court said vocational experts (VEs) who testify in disability hearings are not categorically required to disclose the underlying data used in assessing the applicant's hypothetical job prospects. Nevertheless, the Court said an administrative law judge or reviewing court could look at a VEs refusal to disclose such data when assessing the overall credibility of their testimony.

Magistrate Finds ALJ "Failed to Respond" to Disability Applicant's Concerns Over Job Estimates

A more recent decision from a federal magistrate judge here in Illinois, Jerry P. v. Saul, offers some guidance as to how lower courts are applying the Biestek decision. The plaintiff in this case applied for disability benefits in 2014. Following a 2016 hearing, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) rejected the plaintiff's application.

The ALJ relied heavily on the testimony of a VE, who said the plaintiff could still work as a "hand packer, assembler, or sorter" despite his impairments. The VE further stated such jobs "existed in significant numbers in the national economy" and offered specific estimates for each of the three occupations.

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