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IL disability lawyerSocial Security administrative law judges (ALJs) are expected to rely on medical evidence when assessing an application for disability benefits. The most critical form of medical evidence comes from the applicant's own treating physicians. But the ALJ may also consider other forms of evidence, including something known as a GAF score.

GAF stands for the “Global Assessment of Function.” It is a rating system used to assess a disability applicant's mental function on a 1 to 100 scale. A higher score typically indicates a higher degree of mental functioning.

Now, a GAF score is simply a doctor's opinion regarding the overall impact of an applicant's mental disorders at a given time. It is not an objective diagnostic test. And an ALJ is not allowed to grant or deny disability benefits based solely–or even primarily–on a GAF score. Rather, it is simply one piece of information the ALJ may consider as part of an applicant's overall case.

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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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IL disability attorneyIn a recent post, we discussed a U.S. Supreme Court decision that held a vocational expert who testifies at a Social Security disability benefits hearing is not “categorically” required to disclose the actual data supporting their analysis. Some courts, including those here in Illinois, had previously enforced such a categorical rule. But under the Supreme Court's decision, Biestek v. Berryhill, Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) have wide discretion to decide whether or not such data is relevant to a particular case.

Supreme Court Ruling Means Applicants Cannot Simply “Demand” Access to Data

The Chicago-based U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently applied Biestek to reject an unsuccessful disability applicant's request for a new hearing. The plaintiff in this case, Krell v. Saul, argued the ALJ erred by refusing to issue a subpoena to the vocational expert who testified at his disability hearing.

The plaintiff is a Wisconsin man who was previously employed as an ironworker. He filed for disability benefits due to a knee impairment. Prior to a 2014 hearing, the plaintiff's attorney asked the ALJ overseeing the case to issue a subpoena for “certain documents” upon which the vocational expert who was scheduled to testify “may rely” on in forming their opinions. The attorney explained such documents were necessary to facilitate the plaintiff's ability to properly cross-examine the expert.

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