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Can I Qualify for Disability Following a Traumatic Brain Injury?

Posted by on in Social Security Disability

Chicago disability benefits lawyer, traumatic brain injury, mental injury, Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, seizuresMental impairments can be difficult to correctly diagnose. For instance, a traumatic brain injury may not manifest any immediate symptoms, and it could take several months to fully understand a patient's long-term prognosis. This can have a significant impact on a mentally impaired individual's ability to seek and receive Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. Agency officials often try to minimize or outright dismiss evidence that an applicant is not mentally capable of holding down a full-time job.

7th Circuit Orders New Hearing for Ex-Waitress Suffering From Seizures

The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago recently addressed such a case. The applicant in this case previously worked as a waitress. Seven years ago, she “fell down a flight of stairs and suffered a brain hemorrhage,” according to court records. The applicant also suffered from several prior mental impairments related to depression and substance abuse.

At one point following her brain hemorrhage, the applicant's treating physician told her that she would soon be able to return to full-time work. But a week later she suffered a number of seizures, which were caused by a subdural hematoma, i.e., bleeding under the skull. The applicant's neurologist subsequently “ruled out” working more than eight hours a day, driving, and many other basic life activities. To this day, the applicant continues to suffer from migraines, reduced cognitive ability, and fibromyalgia (chronic pain).

Despite all this, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) denied the applicant's claim for disability benefits. The ALJ—who is not a medical professional—said the applicant made a “good recovery” following her brain injury and was capable of working again in some capacity. The ALJ largely ignored the expert opinions of the treating physicians in favor of a report prepared by state-agency consultants who reviewed the medical record, but did not personally examine the applicant. The ALJ also said the applicant lacked credibility, citing her “daily activities” and the fact she continued to work part-time after the alleged onset of her disability.

The Seventh Circuit said there was “no logical reason” for most of the ALJ's key findings and ordered Social Security to give the applicant a new hearing. To begin, the applicant's part-time work was “not good evidence of ability to engage in full-time employment.” In fact, the applicant was only able to work limited hours because her employer and co-workers made substantial accommodations–something the ALJ “mentioned only in passing and sometimes failed to mention at all,” the Seventh Circuit noted.

More alarmingly, the ALJ “improperly discounted” the opinions of the applicant's treating physicians. An ALJ is not required to accept such opinions but he or she cannot simply ignore such evidence in favor of the non-treating consulting doctors. As the Seventh Circuit explained, “A treating physician's opinion trumps the conclusions of agency consultants—in particular those who never examined the claimant—unless the limitations articulated by the treating physician are not supported by the record.”

Are You Disabled Due to a Mental Injury?

Mental disabilities are just as serious as physical impairments. If you or a loved one are no longer able to work due to a serious brain injury, it is critical to speak with an experienced Chicago disability benefits lawyer who can assist you in dealing with Social Security. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, to speak with an attorney today.


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