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Social Security Must Consider the Testimony of a Treating Physician

 Posted on December 24, 2018 in Social Security Disability

Illinois disability hearing attorney physician opinionIn Social Security disability cases, agency officials will look at two types of medical evidence: The information provided by an applicant’s own treating physicians, and testimony from outside reviewers and consultative examiners, who typically look at an applicant’s medical records but do not necessarily examine them in person. When one’s own doctor's medical opinions are supported by appropriate treatment records, Social Security is expected to afford such views substantial weight, even if they conflict with the opinions of the outside consultants.

Magistrate Orders New Hearing After Social Security Ignores Evidence from Applicant's Psychiatrist

In far too many disability cases, Social Security does not provide the proper weight to the opinions of an applicant’s own physician. A Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) will often credit the views of the outside experts–who often believe the applicant is not disabled–and ignore the contrary opinions of the treating physician. While this is not necessarily against regulations, the ALJ cannot simply ignore evidence.

Consider a recent decision by a federal magistrate judge here in Illinois, Sartin v. Berryhill. The plaintiff in this case is a woman who first applied for disability benefits nearly five years ago. At a hearing, the ALJ accepted evidence that the plaintiff suffered from a number of severe impairments, including depression, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Nevertheless, the ALJ found these impairments “do not meet or medically equal” a legally recognized disability.

In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ relied heavily on the opinions of four agency medical reviewers and consultative examiners, all of whom concluded the plaintiff's physical–as opposed to mental–impairments did not prevent her from working. However, the ALJ ignored testimony from the plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, who said that because of her mental impairments, she “would be off task more than 30 percent of the time and would likely miss more than six days of work each month.” In the ALJ's view, the psychiatrist's conclusions were “inconsistent with her own treatment notes,” and in fact, she only saw the plaintiff on two occasions.

A federal magistrate disagreed and ordered Social Security to conduct a new hearing. The magistrate said that while the treating psychiatrist's records were “sparse,” they nevertheless supported her conclusions, and there was plenty of additional supporting evidence presented to the ALJ regarding the plaintiff's “depressed and unstable moods” and inability to maintain focus, attention, or a regular work schedule. While Social Security was not obligated to find the plaintiff disabled, the ALJ still needed to properly consider all of the relevant medical evidence presented.

Contact a Chicago Social Security Disability Lawyer for Help

When applying for disability benefits, it is important to put your strongest case forward. That is why you should always contact a Cook County disability benefits attorney who can represent you before Social Security. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 to schedule a free consultation today.




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