33 N. Dearborn Street, Suite 1130, Chicago, IL 60602

5 Convenient Locations

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Youtube


call us312-999-0999fax312-999-8999

Does Social Security Understand How to Assess Mental Illness in Disability Cases?

 Posted on October 14, 2016 in Need to Apply for Social Security Disability

b2ap3_thumbnail_mental-illness-disability-benefits-Chicago_20161014-231700_1.jpgSocial Security officials are not doctors. Yet when assessing claims for disability benefits, they often pretend they know more about medical impairments than even the applicant’s treating physician. Such presumptions are inconsistent with the law and courts frequently chide Social Security for “playing doctor.”

Social Security Confuses “Negative” Symptoms of Schizophrenia With “No” Symptoms

Just recently, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ordered Social Security to reconsider the disability claim of a man suffering from schizophrenia because the agency’s administrative law judge (ALJ) “misunderstood” the medical evidence in the case.

The applicant is a 46-year-old former mailroom worker. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia more than 20 years ago. While the applicant was able to manage the condition with medication for many years, his health began to deteriorate five years ago when his doctor switched him to a generic version of the same drug.

After the applicant stopped working, a psychiatrist changed his diagnosis to “paranoid” schizophrenia. This means the applicant suffered from “prominent delusions and hallucinations.” Even after the psychiatrist switched the applicant back to his original medication, his condition did not “fully improve,” although the diagnoses reverted to “undifferentiated” schizophrenia.

The applicant was not well enough to return to work, however, and sought disability benefits. Social Security rejected the claim. The ALJ who reviewed the case said the applicant was capable of working as long as he remained on the original, brand-name drug and that “his schizophrenia was negative and he was doing okay.” The ALJ emphasized the absence of “positive” symptoms—such as hallucinations—and said the applicant’s “negative” symptoms do not prevent him from working.

The Seventh Circuit said the ALJ “fundamentally misunderstood” the applicant’s diagnosis. The ALJ confused “negative symptoms” with “no symptoms,” the court said, and that was simply not the case. The applicant’s psychiatrist, in fact, testified that his patient’s negative symptoms meant that “his emotional expression was impaired and he showed disinterest in work or social activities.”

But the ALJ largely disregarded the psychiatrist’s findings, the court said, instead “cherry picking” certain facts to support his decision denying the applicant disability benefits. The court noted this is a common problem in disability cases involving mental illness, where an applicant will inevitably “have better days and worse days,” making it easy for an ALJ to point to a temporary absence of some symptoms as a sign that there is nothing wrong.

Contact an Illinois Social Security Disability Lawyer

Disability applicants often face an uphill battle when dealing with hostile Social Security officials. As the case above illustrates, these difficulties are compounded when the applicant suffers from a mental disorder that an ALJ does not fully understand. Therefore, it is essential to work with an experienced Chicago disability benefits attorney who can ensure that Social Security—and if necessary, the courts—properly assess your case as required by law. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, if you need to speak with someone about your case today.



Share this post:

You are not alone. Call now for a FREE consultation 312-999-0999

Unable to travel to my office? No problem! No office visit required.

dupage county bar association Chicago abr association nosscr Super Lawyer
Back to Top