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How Obesity May Affect Your Disability Claim

 Posted on September 30, 2015 in Social Security Disability

Chicago Social Security Disability attorney, disability claimMore than one-third of adults in the United States suffer from obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity often contributes to a person's inability to work and, therefore, to a potential claim for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.

While obesity is generally not a disability in and of itself, the Social Security Administration's own policies note “the combined effects of obesity with other impairments can be greater than the effects of each of the impairments considered separately.”

Social Security's “Endemic” Failure to Properly Assess Obesity

Unfortunately, many Social Security officials do not take obesity seriously. Last year, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago lamented the “endemic” failure by Social Security administrative law judges “to consider the bearing of obesity, even when not itself disabling, on a claimant's ability to work.” Despite the appeals court's warning, many disability applicants continue to face problems when citing obesity as part of their claim.

For example, a federal magistrate judge recently ordered the Social Security Administration to reconsider an Illinois woman's application for disability benefits, in part because the ALJ who heard her case failed to properly consider the impact of her obesity. The applicant is in her late 50s and weighed about 280 pounds. The ALJ noted the applicant suffered from “degenerative joint disease in left knee and ankle,” carpal tunnel syndrome, and ongoing breathing problems, in addition to obesity. Despite this, the ALJ determined the applicant could still perform “sedentary work” and therefore denied her application.

On appeal, the magistrate said the ALJ “provided no analysis” regarding the impact of the applicant's obesity. Indeed, the ALJ did little more than list the applicant's weight at various times. The Social Security Administration actually acknowledged before the magistrate the ALJ failed to conduct a proper analysis, yet insisted this was a “harmless” error.

The magistrate was “not so confident” about that. He said the ALJ failed to assess “the possible effect plaintiff's weight may have had on her ability to sit for long periods and also on her ability to alleviate such problems by getting up to stand.” As the Seventh Circuit explained in a similar case, “the likely difficulties that morbidly obese persons...face even in doing sedentary work are sufficiently obvious” to at least require the ALJ receive expert medical testimony, which did not happen in this case. The ALJ further compounded his error, according to the magistrate, by failing to properly assess the combined impact of the applicant's obesity with her diagnosed memory problems and carpal tunnel syndrome. All of these issues must therefore be reconsidered by the Social Security Administration.

Need Help with a Disability Claim?

Obesity does not automatically entitle a person to Social Security disability benefits. However, combined with other serious medical problems, it can help demonstrate a person's genuine inability to work. If you need help from an experienced Chicago Social Security Disability attorney, please contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, today.




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