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Is Social Security Required to Consider All Medical Opinions Relevant to My Disability Case?

 Posted on May 15, 2018 in Already Applied for Disability Benefits

Chicago Social Security disability attorney, disability benefits, medical evidence, disability claim, disability caseSocial Security disability regulations are quite clear about how an administrative law judge (ALJ) is supposed to treat medical evidence: “Regardless of its source, we will evaluate every medical opinion we receive.” This does not mean the ALJ must accept every medical opinion offered. Rather, the regulations require Social Security to consider any expert testimony regarding the applicant's disability and reconcile any potentially conflicting or contrary evidence. Still, the ALJ cannot simply refuse to acknowledge a medical opinion just because he or she disagrees with it.

Appeals Court Finds ALJ “Failed to Confront” Medical Evidence

No matter what the regulations say, however, many ALJs are far too eager to take shortcuts, especially when they have preemptively decided to deny a disability claim. Consider a recent decision by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago. A 67-year old man first applied for Social Security disability benefits five years ago. The plaintiff, a military veteran and former insurance agent, told Social Security he has been unable to work since 2011 due to a variety of severe impairments, including “his spinal arthritis, hip and knee pain, and impaired hearing.”

A state consultative examiner reviewed the plaintiff's medical condition. The examiner told a Social Security ALJ that the plaintiff “has difficulty with standing, walking, bending over and lifting.” But the ALJ concluded the plaintiff “could do a good deal of walking or standing,” which meant he could still be employed in a job requiring only “light work.” For this and other reasons, the ALJ rejected the plaintiff's disability claim.

But as the Seventh Circuit noted, the ALJ never bothered to consider the consultative examiner's opinion, which just happened to contradict the ALJ's conclusions. At a minimum, the court noted, regulations require the ALJ “to confront the examiner's opinion” and explain why it was given little or no weight. The judges further rejected Social Security's position on appeal that the consultative examiner's opinions regarding the plaintiff's ability to stand and walk were not really a “medical judgment” requiring consideration. To the contrary, the examiner expressly labeled his findings as a “Medical Source Statement.”

As it turned out, this was not the only problem with the ALJ's handling of this case. The Seventh Circuit also found the ALJ failed to properly address medical opinions offered by the plaintiff's audiologist regarding his hearing loss. The ALJ also erred in finding the plaintiff himself was “not entirely credible,” despite the existence of medical evidence that supported the plaintiff's subjective reports regarding his ongoing hip and knee pain. For all these reasons, the Seventh Circuit said the plaintiff was entitled to a new disability hearing before Social Security.

Talk to a Cook County Disability Benefits Lawyer Today

Everyone is expected to follow the rules. This includes Social Security officials who review disability claims. To make sure you do not fall victim to agency officials who shirk their legal responsibilities, you need to work with an experienced Chicago Social Security disability attorney who understands the rules and how to apply them. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, today if you are thinking about applying for disability benefits and need legal assistance.



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