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IL disability lawyerSocial Security often tries to justify a denial of disability benefits based on an applicant's purported ability to still perform basic household tasks. For example, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) may reason that since an applicant can still cook for themselves or clean their house despite having a crippling back injury, they must still be capable of working full-time.

Illinois judges have long cautioned Social Security against over-reliance on such “daily living” tasks to disprove disability claims. But there is also the problem of Social Security ignoring evidence regarding an applicant's inability to perform household activities to help prove their claims.

ALJ Failed to Consider Applicant's Difficulties with Daily Living

A recent decision from a federal judge here in Illinois offers a useful example of the latter problem. The plaintiff in this case first applied for disability benefits in 2014, alleging a number of mental impairments, including major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. After a hearing, a Social Security ALJ rejected the plaintiff's application, holding she could still perform certain jobs despite her limitations.

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Illinois social security disability attorney medical examWhen applying for Social Security disability benefits, the medical records provided by your own treating physicians are rarely taken at face value. Social Security will also seek one or more consultative medical examinations. These are exams conducted by doctors hired by the government to supplement the existing medical records in your case. In many cases, consultative physicians only do a quick exam, yet their views are often afforded great weight by Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) when deciding whether to grant or deny a disability application.

Appeals Court Rejects Disability Applicant's Interpretation of Doctors' Opinions

When dealing with consultative physicians, it is important to be honest. Do not exaggerate or downplay any symptoms you are experiencing. Similarly, you need to be accurate when citing or discussing any findings presented by the consultative physicians.

Recently, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago rejected a Social Security disability appeal centered on the views of two consultative physicians. The plaintiff, a woman in her 50s suffering from a variety of mental and physical impairments, applied for disability benefits four years ago. Two consultative physicians–a medical doctor and a psychologist–conducted brief exams of the plaintiff on the same day in 2014. 

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disability benefits, Chicago Social Security attorney, apply for disability, disability claim, Illinois disability caseThe Social Security Administration uses a five-step process to determine whether or not someone is eligible for disability benefits. At the first step, a Social Security administrative law judge will “consider your work activity.” Legally, a person is only considered disabled if he or she has been unable to “do any substantial gainful activity” due to their medical impairments “for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” In plain English, you generally need to be out of work for at least one year before you can apply for disability.

Judge Rejects Fired Schoolteacher's Disability Claim

This is not to say you cannot earn any money in the 12 months preceding the alleged onset date of your disability. Social Security defines “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) as a monthly threshold. For example, in 2018 a person may earn up to $1,180 per month and still qualify for disability benefits (or $1,970 if they are blind). There are also cases where a handicapped person may engage in “sheltered employment” without it constituting SGA.

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