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Challenging Social Security Officials Who “Cherry Pick” Medical Evidence

 Posted on September 28, 2015 in Denied Social Security Benefits

Chicago Social Security Disability benefits attorney, medical evidenceSocial Security Disability Insurance applicants often face an uphill battle against agency officials looking for any reason to deny benefits. In many cases, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) will declare an applicant's testimony lacks credibility, even if evidence clearly supports their disability claim. Even worse, an ALJ may “cherry-pick” evidence to justify a decision to deny benefits, a practice forbidden by the federal courts.

Social Security Wrongly Ignores Evidence of Woman's Disability

In one recent example, an Illinois woman applied for Social Security Disability benefits, citing a number of medical problems including arthritis and an enlarged heart. A Social Security ALJ denied the woman's application, determining she could still perform “light work,” and that her complaints about her medical condition and physical limitations were “inconsistent with the record” presented.

On appeal, a federal magistrate judge took issue with the ALJ's findings. The magistrate first noted the ALJ failed to consider the impact of the applicant's ongoing heart and lung problems. The ALJ seemed to think these issues related solely to the fact the applicant used to smoke. However, the magistrate stated that there was additional evidence indicating that was not the case. Indeed, the magistrate suggested the ALJ had “cherry picked” only the medical evidence which supported his conclusion.

“Even more concerning,” according to the magistrate, was the ALJ's reasons for discounting the applicant's overall credibility. The ALJ cited three issues: First, the applicant “never sought treatment from a specialist.” Second, the applicant “was exaggerating her symptoms because she used a walker and wore sunglasses at the hearing without any documented need for either.” Finally, the applicant received unemployment benefits, “thereby certifying that she was ready, willing, and able to work.” The magistrate found defects with all of these arguments.

With respect to the first issue, the magistrate said the ALJ failed to address the reason the applicant did not seek more aggressive specialist treatment—namely, she could not afford it. The magistrate noted there were “countless references in the record” to the applicant's “dire financial condition,” which the ALJ failed to address. Regarding the applicant's use of a walker and sunglasses, the magistrate said these items did not require a physician's prescription, and did not, as the ALJ concluded, prove the applicant was “exaggerating her symptoms.”

As for the applicant's unemployment benefits, the magistrate noted under binding instructions from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, the Social Security Administration must exercise “significant care and circumspection” before discounting an applicant's credibility on the basis of receiving such benefits alone. The magistrate “questioned” whether the ALJ exercised this level of care here. Based on all these factors, the magistrate said the applicant was entitled to a new hearing before the Social Security Administration.

Get Help from an Experienced Disability Attorney

This case demonstrates the lengthy and complex nature of disability cases. Hence, it is essential you work with an experienced Chicago Social Security Disability benefits attorney who can fight for your rights under the law. Contact the attorneys at Pearson Disability Law, LLC, today if you need help right away.



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