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Will My Use of Prescription Painkillers Affect My Disability Claim?

Posted on in Social Security Disability

Chicago Social Security disability attorney, disability claim, painkiller abuse, Illinois disability case, disability applicantPainkiller abuse is a serious problem for many Illinois residents. Individuals with no prior history of drug abuse find themselves suddenly addicted to powerful opioids following surgery. In many cases, the inability to properly manage pain may leave a person unable to work and eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.

Social Security Judge “Misrepresented” Applicant's Medical History

Unfortunately, some Social Security officials may twist a disability applicant's struggle with painkillers into an excuse to deny benefits. This appears to be what happened in one recent Illinois case. A federal magistrate said a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) “misrepresented” the medical opinions of an applicant's treating physician and “made an impermissible leap of logic” regarding the applicant's pain management regimen.

The applicant underwent spinal fusion surgery in 2011. Afterwards, he continued to experience significant pain in his back and left leg. He was prescribed a number of narcotic and nonnarcotic medications. Despite this, the applicant's treating neurosurgeon found the applicant “had reached maximum medical improvement from a surgical standpoint” and was “permanently and totally disabled.”

Although this diagnosis was fairly explicit, the ALJ relied on an earlier treatment note from the neurosurgeon that projected the applicant would be able to “return to work with restrictions at a light physical demand level.” The ALJ said this note justified rejecting the applicant's disability claim.

But on appeal, the magistrate said this was a blatant “misrepresentation.” The ALJ ignored the superseding note that found the applicant was, in fact, permanently disabled. The magistrate wrote, “It does not appear a reasonable mind would accept the ALJ's interpretation” of the earlier note, especially in light of the later diagnosis.

Additionally, the magistrate said the ALJ misstated “the fact that the claimant was weaned off narcotic medications suggesting that his pain was becoming more tolerable.” In fact, the applicant's doctors advised such weaning based on the assumption that “he will be placed on permanent disability.” The magistrate said there was “no suggestion the weaning was because his pain was becoming more tolerable.”

While the magistrate did not order Social Security to award the applicant disability benefits, it must grant him a new hearing and “conduct a reevaluation” of the relevant medical evidence.

Will Social Security Treat You Fairly?

Social Security has a legal obligation to fairly and accurately assess all medical evidence related to a person's disability. When administrative law judges disregard or intentionally misinterprets such evidence, it not only affects the applicant involved, it also undermines public confidence in the disability insurance system.

Do not let Social Security abuse you this way. If you have applied, or plan to apply, for disability, make sure you have qualified legal assistance by your side. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, to speak with a Chicago Social Security disability attorney who has experience fighting for people like you.



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