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How Does Obesity Affect My Social Security Disability Claim?

Posted on in Social Security Disability

Social Security disability claimsAccording to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 40 percent of U.S. adults suffer from obesity. While merely being “overweight” does not prevent most people from working, when obesity is combined with an individual's other medical impairments, it may qualify him or her for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.

Federal Court Orders Third Social Security Hearing for Applicant with “Morbid Obesity”

Getting Social Security to accept evidence of an obesity-related disability is often easier said than done. For example, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago recently ordered Social Security to conduct a third hearing for a disability applicant who first applied for benefits eight years ago. Among other issues, the appeals court cited Social Security's failure to consider how the applicant's “morbid obesity” interacted with her other medically proven impairments.

The plaintiff in this case participated in her first Social Security hearing in 2012. An administrative law judge determined the plaintiff was not disabled and denied her claim. However, in August 2015, a federal judge in Indiana ordered a second hearing after criticizing the ALJ for failure to consider the “limitations imposed” by the plaintiff's obesity “both independently and in combination with her other impediments.”

The second hearing went no better than the first one. The ALJ—the same one who presided over the first hearing—told the plaintiff that she would “stick with what I determined the last time,” namely that the plaintiff was “limited to sedentary work.” Furthermore, when the ALJ again decided the plaintiff was not legally disabled, she remarked, “Oh, you want to go to Federal Court again?”

Although such actions indicated the ALJ was clearly biased against the plaintiff at the second hearing, the Seventh Circuit did not base its decision on what it described as these “troublesome” statements. Instead, it focused on the substance of the ALJ's analysis, or lack thereof.

The first problem was the ALJ's conclusion that the plaintiff could still perform “sedentary” work with certain limitations. This actually contradicted the medical evidence presented at the hearing. The plaintiff's doctor told the ALJ that the plaintiff needed to “ambulate” regularly during the day—at least 20 minutes at a time—due to her morbid obesity. The ALJ failed to address this statement at all in her second decision.

Second, the ALJ decided the plaintiff could perform jobs that required her to “balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl.” Again, this directly contradicted the findings of the plaintiff's doctor. And again, the ALJ never bothered to address this contradiction.

Finally, the Seventh Circuit said the ALJ also “ignored the interaction between [the plaintiff's] obesity and her non-severe impairments,” in particular a fracture in her arm and her carpal tunnel syndrome. All of these issues would therefore need to be addressed during a third Social Security hearing.

Contact a Cook County Disability Benefits Lawyer Today

Social Security's decision-making process is often maddening. Even when a federal court instructs the agency to do something, it continues to drag its feet. This is one reason it is critical to work with an experienced Chicago Social Security disability attorney who understands the system and can help make it work for you. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, if you need help today.



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