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Credibility Is Often the Key to a Disability Case

 Posted on January 26, 2016 in Already Applied for Disability Benefits

credibility, Chicago Social Security Disability attorney There are two critical factors to consider in a claim for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits: The credibility of the applicant and the medical opinions of his or her treating physician. If a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) denies a disability claim, he or she must explain why the applicant or physician's testimony lacks credibility. It is not simply a matter of the ALJ rejecting such testimony arbitrarily or capriciously.

Court Rejects Medical Testimony Based Solely on “Subjective Complaints”

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which reviews disability appeals from Chicago and throughout Illinois, recently addressed the issues of applicant and physician credibility in upholding Social Security's decision to deny benefits. The applicant in this case is a 56-year-old man with a long history of performing manual labor. Beginning in 2009, the applicant has been under a physician's care due to “persistent complaints of pain in his right shoulder.” In 2010 he aggravated the injury while at work and required surgery. The applicant was also subsequently diagnosed with Type II diabetes.

By late 2011, the applicant realized he was no longer physically capable of working and sought Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. An ALJ heard the applicant's case in early 2013. At the hearing, he testified “he was unable to work due to constant aching in his shoulders and neck, discomfort in his lower back from standing too long, and occasional tingling and numbness in his feet, fingers, and hands that he attributed to diabetes and varying glucose levels.” The applicant's personal physician also testified. Based on his most recent examination of the applicant prior to the hearing, the physician said his patient could only perform limited work under heavy restrictions.

The ALJ did not find either the applicant or his doctor's testimony credible and denied the claim for disability benefits. The applicant ultimately appealed all the way to the Seventh Circuit. In a January 2016 opinion, a three-judge panel of that court unanimously rejected the applicant's appeal and upheld the ALJ's decision. Judge Michael Kanne, writing for the panel, said the ALJ properly disregarded the physician's medical opinions because it rested “entirely on the claimant’s subjective complaints” about his ongoing pain, and contradicted both the “objective medical evidence and [the applicant's] own account of his abilities.”

Furthermore, Judge Kanne said there were “several factors” cited by the ALJ in disregarding the applicant's testimony that he was no longer able to work. This included, but was not limited to, evidence regarding the applicant's ability to “perform light household chores, drive a car, and shop for groceries.” Ultimately, the judge said, there simply was not enough “medical evidence” in the record supporting the applicant's disability claim.

Get Help With Your Disability Claim

Although the applicant in this case was unsuccessful, the Seventh Circuit's opinion illustrates the overriding importance of medical evidence in disability cases. Social Security will not simply rely on an applicant's complaints regarding pain and inability to work. That is why, if you are unable to work, it is important to not only seek proper medical care but also a qualified Chicago Social Security Disability attorney who understands the burden of proof in these cases. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, if you would like to speak with someone right away.



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