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Can Social Security Ignore Your Complaints of Chronic Pain?

 Posted on June 07, 2016 in Already Applied for Disability Benefits

Chicago Social Security Disability Benefits AttorneyWe have already discussed how chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia, may qualify a person for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. There are many cases where chronic pain can be difficult to diagnose through objective medical evidence. That does not mean, however, that Social Security officials may simply disregard or dismiss an applicant’s subjective complaints about pain.

Illinois Judge Orders New Hearing for Woman With Chronic Knee Pain

Federal courts in Illinois routinely chastise Social Security for its failure to properly deal with applicants suffering from chronic pain. Here is a recent example. The applicant in this case was a 57-year-old woman who most recently worked as a housekeeper. She stopped working due to chronic pain in her knees and feet, as well as other medical impairments. The applicant also suffered from arthritis and depression.

Before a Social Security hearing, a physician testified that the “objective evidence was insufficient to support [the applicant’s] complaints of pain.” The doctor blamed the applicant’s “lack of quality health insurance” for the fact she was not able to undergo certain medical tests, such as an MRI, that might support her complaints of chronic pain. A vocational expert retained by Social Security further testified the applicant could, despite her condition, still perform “light work, with the additional restrictions to simple, routine tasks, no more than incidental contact with the public, and no more than occasional contact with co-workers.”

Based on this testimony, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) denied the applicant’s claim for disability benefits. The applicant appealed that decision in federal court. Earlier this year, a federal judge remanded the case to Social Security with instructions to reconsider the case.

The biggest problem the judge had with Social Security’s decision was the vocational expert’s insistence that the applicant could still work in such jobs as “copy machine operator” or “hotel housekeeper.” The judge said the vocational expert’s testimony on this point was “sketchy” at best. For one thing, the vocational expert apparently misstated the actual job requirements for a copy machine operator.

Second, the ALJ determined the applicant could “be on her feet” for at least “6 hours out of every workday” despite her chronic pain. The judge said that conclusion was not supported by the evidence. The doctor who testified before Social Security ignored evidence regarding the applicant’s foot pain, the judge noted, and the ALJ failed to inquire about the limits of the applicant’s pain treatment.

Most egregiously, the judge said, the ALJ ignored the law by demanding objective evidence of the applicant’s pain in the first place. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees all federal courts in Illinois, “has said time and time again that, even if the ALJ — or for that matter, the medical expert — thought that the objective evidence was insufficient, pain alone can be disabling.” In other words, Social Security cannot cavalierly dismiss an applicant’s complaints of chronic pain as proof of disability.

Get Help From an Illinois Social Security Disability Attorney

Dealing with chronic pain is enough of a struggle without having to fight with Social Security officials who insist you are just making it up. But given the government’s long history of hostility towards chronic pain sufferers, it is all the more essential that you seek assistance from an experienced Chicago disability benefits lawyer. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, to speak with someone right away.



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