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Social Security Often Ignores Evidence to Support “Credibility” Findings

Posted on in Social Security Disability

Social Security disability, disability benefits, disability applicant, credibility findings, Chicago disability benefits lawyerSocial Security Disability Insurance applicants frequently face hostile administrative law judges (ALJs) who look for any reason to deny benefits. An ALJ will often act under the pretext of a “credibility finding” to justify a rejection. In plain English, this means that the ALJ agrees the applicant has a severe impairment, but he or she is exaggerating or overstating his or her symptoms just to get disability benefits. In many cases the ALJ will selectively cite evidence of daily activities or lack of treatment as definitive proof that an applicant is not disabled—even when the medical evidence suggests otherwise.

Illinois Judge Orders New Disability Hearing After ALJ Fails to Follow Regulations

When an ALJ makes an erroneous credibility finding, it can force the disability applicant to spend years fighting for justice. For instance, a federal magistrate in Illinois recently order Social Security to reconsider the disability claim of a woman who first filed for benefits more than five years ago. In this case, the ALJ used a credibility finding to reject medical evidence establishing the applicant's inability to work due to a number of documented impairments, including severe back pain, asthma, hypertension, and morbid obesity.

The ALJ decided the applicant lacked credibility because, despite her conditions, she was still working part time and could perform “a full range of daily activities,” i.e. household chores. The ALJ also cited the applicant's “relatively infrequent treatment” for her back pain. Yet, as the magistrate explained, the ALJ cannot rely solely on these conclusions to justify a negative credibility finding.

Courts in Illinois have repeatedly told Social Security that it cannot equate the ability to perform household chores with holding down a full-time job. Additionally, while the applicant here did work part-time, the magistrate noted she could not walk “more than a few hundred feet” or “stand for more than 5 minutes” at a time without experiencing significant back pain. Indeed, the applicant required 45-minute breaks when she worked part time, which Social Security's own vocational expert said was “unacceptable in a normal working environment.”

The ALJ essentially ignored all of this evidence, according to the magistrate. Nor did the ALJ inquire as to the reasons for the applicant's “infrequent” treatment for her back pain. Social Security regulations clearly state that an ALJ “must not draw any inferences about an individual's symptoms and their functional effects” based on a failure to seek medical treatment without first giving the applicant an opportunity to explain her reasons. Given this, the ALJ said the applicant was entitled to a new hearing.

An Illinois Social Security Disability Attorney Can Help You

Unfortunately, even when a federal court orders a new disability hearing, it can take many months or years for Social Security to take action. Disability is not a short or painless process. Hence, you need to work with an experienced Chicago disability benefits lawyer who will be with you for the long-haul. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, if you are applying for SSDI benefits and require legal assistance today.



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