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The Importance of "Credibility" in Disability Cases

 Posted on September 14, 2015 in Social Security Disability

social security credibility, Chicago disability claim lawyerIn deciding a person's claim for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, officials must determine whether or not the applicant's testimony regarding his medical condition and work limitations is “credible.” A credibility assessment may turn on any number of factors, including a review of the applicant's medical records and work history. And while judges afford the Social Security Administration great leeway in making credibility assessments, they may still be overturned if their reasoning is seriously flawed.

Part-Time Work, Inability to Afford Medicine Does Not Defeat Disability Claim

That is exactly what happened in a recent Illinois case involving a man who was denied Social Security disability benefits. The applicant suffers from a number of HIV-related health complications. The applicant said due to his medical condition, he has been unable to work full time since 2008, although after he filed for disability in 2011, he began working a limited, part-time schedule.

In denying his application for disability benefits, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) determined the applicant was not credible. In addition to citing conflicts between the applicant's testimony regarding his reported symptoms and his medical records, the ALJ said the applicant “was not compliant with treatment because he skipped doses of his medications instead of taking them as prescribed.” The ALJ also noted the applicant “cooks, cleans, goes to the grocery store, and takes public transportation.” Finally, the applicant held a part-time job in his chosen field, indicating an “ability to function.”

On appeal, U.S. District Judge Sheila Finnegan overturned the ALJ's decision and returned the case to the Social Security Administration. Judge Finnegan said, “multiple aspects of the ALJ's credibility determination were flawed,” and required reconsideration. First, regarding the applicant's purported noncompliance with his medical treatment, Judge Finnegan noted the applicant lost his Medicare coverage in 2011 and could no longer afford to purchase all of his required medications on a regular basis. The ALJ chided the applicant for failing to seek “low- or no-cost treatment options,” but as Judge Finnegan noted, the ALJ immediately contradicted this statement by acknowledging the applicant testified—twice—that he applied for and was denied one such option.

Second, Judge Finnegan said the ALJ disregarded the actual limits of the applicant's ability to perform household tasks. For example, while the ALJ said the applicant “cleans,” Judge Finnegan noted the applicant actually testified, “It takes him an hour to clean one room, after which he must rest, and if he is tired he spreads the task of cleaning his four-room apartment over separate days.”

Finally, the applicant's ability to work part-time does not defeat his credibility or his disability claim. The applicant is a phlebotomist. Between 2011 and 2012, he worked 15 hours per week on a schedule that gave him every third week off. While the ALJ treated this part-time work as proof the applicant was not disabled, Judge Finnegan cautioned that may not be the case. In cases where an employer makes accommodations “an ordinary employer would have found unacceptable,” the applicant may still be legally disabled.

Need Help With a Disability Claim?

Cases like this illustrate the complexity of the Social Security disability application process. It is important to seek help from an experienced Chicago Social Security Disability benefits attorney. Pearson Disability Law, LLC can help you at all stages of a disability case, from initial application to appeal. Contact us today if you have any questions.



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