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IL disability attorneyA Social Security disability hearing is not a criminal trial. The role of the Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) is not to assess your honesty, character, or credibility as a person. The ALJ's responsibility is to assess the medical evidence presented and make a fact-based determination as to whether or not you meet the listed requirements for disability benefits.

Federal Court Criticizes Social Security ALJ for Relying “Too Heavily” on Judgments About Applicant's Character

Although Social Security's own regulations instruct ALJs to avoid making statements regarding a disability applicant's “overall character or truthfulness,” this principle is not always followed in practice. When that happens, a federal court may decide an unsuccessful applicant is entitled to a new hearing.

To give a recent example, in a June 2020 decision, Dawn K. v. Saul, an Illinois federal magistrate judge found an ALJ relied “too heavily on character-doubting inconsistencies” in denying the plaintiff's application for disability benefits. The plaintiff is a woman in her mid-40s who applied for disability more than four years ago based on a number of impairments, notably problems with her right arm.


Chicago social security disability lawyerSocial Security officials recently issued revised guidelines for assessing disability benefits claims. Previously, Social Security instructed its administrative law judges to weigh the “credibility” of a disability applicant’s statements regarding their symptoms. Far too often, this led ALJs to summarily reject disability claims because they did not want to believe—or in many cases, they did not like—the applicant.

Under the new guidelines, which took effect at the end of March, ALJs are no longer allowed to consider “credibility,” but rather must limit their inquiry to examining the “intensity and persistence” of the symptoms presented by the applicant. As a federal appeals judge recently explained, “The change in wording is meant to clarify that administrative law judges aren’t in the business of impeaching claimants’ character.” Instead, the ALJ is restricted to assessing credibility in the context of medical statements, such as an applicant’s complaints about pain.

The New Guidelines in Action


Chicago Social Security Disability Benefits AttorneyThe federal government recently issued revised guidelines for Social Security Disability insurance cases. Historically, Social Security instructed its administrative law judges (ALJs) to assess a disability applicant’s “credibility” in evaluating his or her symptoms. This has frequently led to ALJs disregarding medical evidence of a disability simply because they chose not to believe (or simply did not like) the applicant.

However, under a new Policy Interpretation Ruling that took effect in March, Social Security is now directing ALJs to “limit their evaluation to the [applicant’s] statements about his or her symptoms and the evidence in the record that is relevant to the individual's impairments.” In other words, the ALJ should no longer use a disability evaluation to “assess an individual’s overall character or truthfulness in the manner typical during an adversarial court litigation.” The ALJ’s sole function is to assess the quality of the medical evidence.

Judge Orders New Disability Hearing for Multiple Sclerosis Patient


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