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Epilepsy and Social Security Disability Benefits

Posted on in Social Security Disability Medical Conditions

IL disability lawyerEpilepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system that frequently leads to seizures and other unusual behaviors, such as loss of awareness. And while many people are able to lead a full, active life with epilepsy, there are cases where the symptoms may be so severe as to render an individual unable to work. In such circumstances, epilepsy may qualify as a disability for Social Security purposes.

Court of Appeals: Social Security Improperly Discounted Views of Disability Applicant's Primary Care Doctor

Of course, Social Security may attempt to minimize or disregard the impact of epilepsy on a disability applicant. Although Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) are normally expected to give great weight to the medical conclusions of a disability applicant's treating physician, we often see cases where just the opposite occurs: The ALJ will discount the treating physician's views without offering sufficient reasons for doing so.

Such practices may be commonplace at Social Security, but they are in direct contravention of the law. For example, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago recently ordered Social Security to conduct a new disability hearing for a 27-year-old applicant (the plaintiff) who filed for benefits on the basis of his epilepsy. The plaintiff's primary care physician explained that despite medication, the plaintiff suffered from “chronic fatigue, memory loss and the need to lie down frequently.” It was the primary care physician's expert opinion that the plaintiff's epileptic seizures had caused “brain damage” and that even if the plaintiff could find work he would “need frequent breaks and miss work frequently because of his symptoms.”

The ALJ assigned to the plaintiff's case elected to disregard the primary care physician's opinions. In the ALJ's view, according to the Seventh Circuit's opinion, the physician “had simply parroted the symptoms that [the plaintiff] reported instead of basing his prognosis on objective medical evidence, such as imaging tests of his brain.” The ALJ also cited the primary care physician's “lack of specialization” as grounds for disregarding his findings.

Instead, the ALJ chose to rely on the views expressed by two state agency consultants, who reviewed the plaintiff's medical records but did not treat him. The consultants said the plaintiff could still “complete repetitive work with certain limits” despite his history of epileptic seizures.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit said it agreed with the plaintiff that the ALJ “improperly discounted” the primary care physician's conclusions. The reasons offered by the ALJ were “unsound.” For example, the suggestion that the doctor merely parroted the plaintiff's reported symptoms–in effect, an accusation that “treating physicians … lie about their patients' capabilities,” was “based on nothing but speculation and a general suspicion of treating physicians.” The ALJ, therefore, had no valid basis for disregarding the primary care physician's “records and opinions.”

Speak with a Chicago Social Security Disability Lawyer Today

Social Security may distrust doctors, but they still have to follow the law. An experienced Chicago disability benefits attorney can help make sure an ALJ does not attempt to “play doctor” in your case. If you are applying for Social Security benefits and need assistance, contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 today to schedule a free consultation.




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