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How Many Times Will Social Security Hold a Hearing to Assess My Disability?

Posted on in Denied Social Security Benefits

IL disability lawyerIt is not unusual for Social Security to initially deny a disability claim. This is why there is a process in place to request an administrative hearing, and if necessary appeal a denial. However, there are some cases where Social Security makes repeated mistakes in its handling of a disability application, to the point where the applicant may need to pursue multiple rounds of appeals just to get a fair hearing.

Big Toe Presents Big Headache for Social Security, Federal Judges

One of the more extreme examples of this came in a recent decision from a federal magistrate judge here in Illinois, Dolores R. v. Saul. In this case, the magistrate felt compelled to remand–i.e., return for a new hearing–a case back to Social Security for a third time, largely because the agency's administrative law judge (ALJ) failed to carry out the court's instructions following prior remands. And to put the timeline of this case into perspective, the plaintiff initially filed her application for disability benefits in August 2010–more than nine years ago.

An ALJ initially denied the plaintiff's application in 2012. In May 2014, a magistrate judge remanded the case for the first time. So the ALJ held a second hearing and again denied the plaintiff's application. In May 2017, a second magistrate judge remanded the case a second time. This led to the third and most-recent hearing before the ALJ, which again led to a finding the applicant did not legally qualify as disabled.

You are probably wondering how Social Security managed to bungle this case three times. Based on the most recent magistrate judge's decision, here is a brief explanation of what happened. Essentially, the magistrate said the ALJ “failed to comply with the directives set out” in the second magistrate judge's remand order from 2017.

The plaintiff's disability claim centers on her arthritic big toe. The ALJ who issued the most recent decision found that despite the plaintiff's condition, she could still “stand for up to five hours a day,” which meant she had the capacity to still perform certain types of work. The problem, the magistrate judge explained, was that this finding was not consistent with the medical evidence presented. To the contrary, the doctor whose testimony the ALJ allegedly relied upon said the plaintiff could “stand for one hour at a time [for] a total of three hours in a day.”

More to the point, the ALJ who conducted the second hearing largely discredited the plaintiff's testimony about her condition because she allegedly failed to “follow-up with a podiatrist or complain to any other doctors about [the] problem with her toe.” This prompted the second remand, as the magistrate noted the plaintiff lacked Medicaid and was unable to pay for certain medications. The second remand order directed Social Security to “adequately address barriers to follow-up treatment and the extent to which they impeded further treatment.”

But Social Security failed to do this. Indeed, the magistrate judge who issued this most recent decision said not only did the ALJ fail to ask the plaintiff about Medicaid or her lack of treatment during the third hearing, the ALJ did not even bother to ask the plaintiff about the condition of her big toe “even though it was her only severe physical impairment.” As a result, the magistrate judge said Social Security needed to conduct a fourth hearing.

Speak with a Chicago Social Security Disability Lawyer Today

Again, it is unusual for a disability application to go through four rounds of hearings. But this does illustrate the lengths Social Security may go to in order to frustrate an application for disability benefits. So even if you are just facing your first hearing before an ALJ and need assistance from a qualified Chicago Social Security benefits attorney, contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, today to schedule a free consultation.



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