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Disabled Vets Often Face Uphill Battle Against Social Security

Posted on in Denied Social Security Benefits

IL disability lawyerIt is a sad truth that many of our U.S. military veterans suffer from mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. Unfortunately, Social Security officials often compound the suffering of our veterans by refusing to classify them as disabled, even in the face of overwhelming medical evidence. Indeed, there are many cases where the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) considers a veteran disabled but Social Security does not.

Federal Court Identifies Multiple Problems with Social Security Ruling

A recent decision by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago illustrates the unnecessary hardships faced by our veterans when dealing with the Social Security disability process. The plaintiff in this case is a 49-year-old woman who served as a chief petty officer in the United States Navy. During her service, the plaintiff was subjected to sexual harassment from her supervising officer. This led the plaintiff to develop migraines and sleeping problems.

After receiving an honorable discharge from the Navy eight years ago, the VA diagnosed the plaintiff with PTSD, military sexual trauma, and major depressive disorder. The plaintiff eventually applied for and received VA disability benefits. Then in 2013, the plaintiff applied for Social Security disability benefits. But Social Security denied her application after an administrative law judge (ALJ) after concluding the plaintiff “was still able to perform certain work and thus was not disabled.”

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit identified a number of problems with the ALJ's decision:

  • The ALJ largely rejected the medical opinions of the plaintiff's treating psychiatrist. But according to the Seventh Circuit, the ALJ “failed to properly explain” her rejection. The Court went so far as to call the ALJ's analysis on this point “confusing.”
  • The ALJ also rejected a second doctor's diagnosis of the plaintiff's migraines. Again, the Seventh Circuit said the ALJ failed to “elaborate,” and in any event the medical records supported the diagnosis.
  • The ALJ gave “little weight” to the VA's disability determination. The Seventh Circuit noted this made little sense, given VA's standards for assessing a person's disability is “practically indistinguishable” from Social Security's regulations.
  • The ALJ set an “impractically high and legally incorrect bar for establishing disabling mental illness,” according to the Seventh Circuit. The ALJ suggested the applicant's mental illness was not disabling because she had never been fired from a job or been arrested multiple times. The Court observed, “Where that standard came from is a mystery.”
  • The ALJ “discounted” the plaintiff's “mental limitations” by pointing to what the Court considered irrelevant matters. For example, the ALJ believed the fact the plaintiff attended college somehow proved her mental health problems were not serious, but the Court noted the plaintiff actually “received a disability accommodation” from her school “and was unable to complete her original program.”

For all these reasons, the Seventh Circuit determined the plaintiff was entitled, at a minimum, to a new disability hearing.

Speak with a Cook County Disability Benefits Lawyer Today

Social Security may want to ignore the suffering of individuals with mental illness, but the agency is required to follow the law. If you need help from an experienced Chicago Social Security attorney in pursuing your application, contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 today.




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