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How Does Social Security Determine the “Onset Date” of My Disability?

Posted on in Social Security Disability

Social Security disability cases, Chicago disability benefits attorney, onset date of disability, Illinois disability case, disability benefitsA key issue in Social Security disability cases is determining when an applicant actually became disabled, i.e. no longer able to work as a matter of law. Disability benefits are supposed to begin five months after this official onset date. And since many disability applicants—especially here in the Chicago area—must wait years for a favorable decision from Social Security, accrued benefits must be paid from the start of this post-five month waiting period.

Social Security Cited for Misrepresenting Doctor's Testimony

In determining a disability onset date, Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) are expected to rely on medical evidence and not their own intuition or guesswork. Of course, that does not stop some ALJs from attempting to do just that. While federal courts consistently have to remind Social Security of its legal obligations, such reminders only serve to extend the waiting period for disability applicants who desperately need income now.

Consider a recent Illinois disability case. The plaintiff said he has been disabled and unable to work since December 2013. The plaintiff has suffered epileptic seizures since childhood. Despite undergoing multiple brain surgeries to try and correct his condition, regular seizures have continued.

In June 2013, he told his doctor the seizures were occurring “every other month, often in clusters.” The plaintiff next saw his doctor in-person in December 2015. By this time, he was having seizures at least twice per month. Clinical testing led the doctor to diagnose the plaintiff with a “progressive memory decline.”

The doctor personally testified at the plaintiff's disability hearing. After unusually combative questioning from the ALJ presiding over the case, the Social Security official nonetheless agreed the applicant was disabled—but only as of April 2015, not December 2015. In her written opinion, the ALJ claimed she credited the doctor's testimony as supporting this onset date.

But that is not exactly what transpired, according to a federal magistrate who reviewed Social Security's decision following the plaintiff's appeal. To the contrary, the magistrate said the “ALJ's analysis is not supported by any medical expert testimony” and her decision was “clearly at odds with the doctor's testimony in several ways.” Basically, the ALJ focused on when the doctor said he became aware of the plaintiff's increased seizure activity, rather than his testimony regarding when the increase began.

Beyond the ALJ's manipulation of the doctor's testimony, the magistrate said the onset date she ultimately selected—April 2015—was “neither clearly explained nor reconciled with competing evidence.” The date was, in fact, little more than “theory” proposed by the ALJ that was “undeveloped and speculative based on the current record.” Consequently, the magistrate returned the case to Social Security with orders to reconsider the plaintiff's onset date.

Make Sure Social Security Sticks to the Facts

When it comes to your disability case, Social Security officials should stick to the facts and not engage in their own baseless speculation as to when and how you became disabled. The best way to keep Social Security honest is to work with an experienced Chicago disability benefits attorney who understands the law in this area. If you need help dealing with Social Security, call Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 to schedule a consultation today.



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