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b2ap3_thumbnail_obesity.jpgObesity does not simply mean a person is a few pounds over their ideal weight. Rather, it is defined as a “complex disease involving an excessive amount of body fat.” In some cases, a person's obesity may be severe enough to qualify them for Social Security disability benefits.

Now, it is important to understand that obesity, in and of itself, is no longer considered a standalone disability by Social Security. That is to say, Social Security will not assume you are unable to work because you suffer from obesity. But Social Security must take obesity into consideration when determining any limitations on your ability to work.

Magistrate: Social Security Acknowledged, But Did Not Discuss, Impact of Disability Applicant's Obesity

A recent decision from a federal magistrate judge here in Illinois illustrates the role obesity should play in a disability application. The plaintiff, in this case, applied for disability benefits, stating he has been unable to work since 2009 due to a variety of impairments, including a back injury, arthritis, and diabetes.

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IL disability lawyerDecisions regarding Social Security disability applications are supposed to be based on medical evidence. That is, your treating doctor's medical conclusions are normally expected to be given great weight by a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ). But in far too many cases, we find the ALJ taking it upon themselves to “play doctor” and ignore or discount the treating physician's views.

Magistrate: Social Security “Mischaracterized” Surgeon's Findings in Denying Disability Application

In some cases, an ALJ may outright misrepresent what the treating physician found. This is not okay. To the contrary, it violates Social Security regulations and entitles an unsuccessful applicant to a new hearing on their claim.

This is precisely what happened to one Illinois disability benefits applicant in a recent case, Lisa AB v. Commissioner of Social Security. The plaintiff in this case has not worked since 2012 because of her inability to use her hands. The plaintiff had a history of severe carpal tunnel syndrome that required surgery.

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IL disability lawyerEpilepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system that frequently leads to seizures and other unusual behaviors, such as loss of awareness. And while many people are able to lead a full, active life with epilepsy, there are cases where the symptoms may be so severe as to render an individual unable to work. In such circumstances, epilepsy may qualify as a disability for Social Security purposes.

Court of Appeals: Social Security Improperly Discounted Views of Disability Applicant's Primary Care Doctor

Of course, Social Security may attempt to minimize or disregard the impact of epilepsy on a disability applicant. Although Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) are normally expected to give great weight to the medical conclusions of a disability applicant's treating physician, we often see cases where just the opposite occurs: The ALJ will discount the treating physician's views without offering sufficient reasons for doing so.

Such practices may be commonplace at Social Security, but they are in direct contravention of the law. For example, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago recently ordered Social Security to conduct a new disability hearing for a 27-year-old applicant (the plaintiff) who filed for benefits on the basis of his epilepsy. The plaintiff's primary care physician explained that despite medication, the plaintiff suffered from “chronic fatigue, memory loss and the need to lie down frequently.” It was the primary care physician's expert opinion that the plaintiff's epileptic seizures had caused “brain damage” and that even if the plaintiff could find work he would “need frequent breaks and miss work frequently because of his symptoms.”

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