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Does “Daily Living” Prove You Are Not Disabled Due to a Mental Disorder?

 Posted on April 06, 2017 in Social Security Disability

b2ap3_thumbnail_mental-disorder-Chicago.jpgPsychiatric disorders often pose a challenge for Social Security Disability Insurance applicants. Social Security officials tend to discount medical evidence of serious mental health problems, such as depression. The attitude of many administrative law judges is that if a person can function at home with a documented mental disorder, they can also handle the stress of a full-time job.

Social Security Must Consider Stresses of the Workplace

However, that is clearly not always the case. For example, in a recent disability case from Springfield, a federal magistrate faulted Social Security's treatment of a 51-year-old applicant's claim. The applicant worked for many years as an attorney. About six years ago, he stopped working due to a variety of mental and physical impairments. Of note, the applicant's physicians diagnosed him with depression, sleep apnea, insomnia, and migraine headaches. At one point the applicant was diagnosed with major depressive disorder after he expressed “suicidal ideations” to an emergency room doctor.

One treating psychologist said the applicant was “nonfunctional” and unable to work at his job. Another doctor agreed the applicant was “totally medically disabled.” Yet another doctor said the applicant could not “maintain the concentration, persistence, and pace” of “most workplaces.”

However, state agency doctors assigned by Social Security to review the applicant's medical records reached different conclusions. They believed the applicant could still perform “light work” under certain medical restrictions.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a Social Security administrative law judge sided with the state agency doctors and ignored the medical evidence of the applicant's treating physicians. The ALJ held the applicant was not legally disabled since, “Despite his mental problems, [he] is able to live independently and perform the tasks necessary to do so.” And even if the applicant could not return to work as an attorney, there were other jobs he could still perform.

The magistrate said the ALJ's reasoning was inadequate, specifically her equating the applicant's “ability to live alone and take care of himself and his dog” to holding down a full-time job. “Daily activities in the home typically do not indicate whether a person can withstand the pressures of a work environment,” the magistrate wrote in his opinion. A workplace is a “structured performance environment,” and the applicant's documented medical conditions seriously affect his ability to operate under pressure. The magistrate ordered Social Security to reconsider the applicant's claim, taking into account the full extent of his mental health impairments.

New Rules May Make it Harder for Disability Applicants

Social Security has recently changed its rules for assessing medical evidence. For cases filed on or after March 27, Social Security will no longer give the medical opinions of an applicant's treating physician “controlling” weight. This makes it all the more important for an applicant to work with an experienced Chicago disability benefits lawyer in preparing his or her case, especially when it involves mental disorders. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, today, if you need help with your Social Security claim.



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