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IL disability attorneyWhen reviewing Social Security disability applications, an administrative law judge (ALJ) needs to weigh the evidence offered by various medical experts. As a general rule, the ALJ should give more weight to the testimony offered by a doctor with respect to their own specialty as opposed to someone who is not. For example, if a disability applicant is unable to walk, you would credit the testimony of an orthopedic surgeon over, say, a dermatologist.

This might sound like just basic common sense. Yet there are many cases where ALJs will disregard the specialist's view in favor of a non-specialist's view–especially when the latter is willing to say the applicant's condition does not really qualify them for disability benefits. Such decision-making not only defies common sense, but it is also often in direct contravention of Social Security regulations.

Let's take this recent disability case from here in Illinois, Kathy P. v. Saul. The plaintiff in this case applied for Social Security disability benefits about five years ago. Although she suffers from a number of physical and mental impairments, the critical issue here involves her mental disorders and frequent migraines. In support of her claims, the plaintiff presented expert testimony from her treating psychiatrist. Based on her extensive treatment history, the psychiatrist told Social Security that the plaintiff “was unable to meet competitive standards for several abilities such as completing a normal workday and workweek without interruptions, accepting instructions and responding appropriately to criticism from supervisors, and dealing with normal work stress.”

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b2ap3_thumbnail_disability_20200401-004725_1.jpgSocial Security disability is a form of insurance. This means that you can only apply for benefits if you are actually covered–insured–at the time you became disabled. In most cases, your “date last insured” for disability purposes is five years after you left your last job.

Appeals Court: Social Security May Not Ignore Medical Opinions Rendered After Date Last Insured

But can Social Security consider a medical diagnosis or opinion rendered by your doctor after your date last insured (DLI) when assessing your disability claim? The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago recently addressed this question in an unpublished decision, Marquardt v. Saul. The plaintiff in this case applied for disability benefits based on his lupus and related impairments.

The plaintiff's date last insured was July 2013. In his application to Social Security, the plaintiff said his lupus rendered him unable to work prior to this date. However, he also submitted two reports from his treating neurologist, which were prepared in 2015 and 2016, respectively. These reports established the plaintiff suffered from cognitive defects as a result of his lupus. These defects, in turn, limited the plaintiff to performing “single-task jobs with breaks and no distractions.”

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IL disability lawyerWhen applying for Social Security disability benefits, it is important to remember that the officials who will rule on your claim are not themselves doctors or medical experts. Social Security regulations require officials to carefully consider the medical evidence, as well as your own testimony regarding your symptoms, in making a decision. It is improper for Social Security to “play doctor” on its own accord or rule in a way that is not supported by the actual medical evidence presented.

Illinois Magistrate Orders New Hearing for Disability Applicant, Citing Multiple Legal Errors

Let's take this recent decision from a federal magistrate judge here in Illinois, Matthew DS v. Saul. In this case, Social Security denied the disability application of a man (the plaintiff) who suffers from “inflammatory arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and obesity.” Following a hearing, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) determined these impairments did not qualify the plaintiff for the disability benefits.

The magistrate judge, however, found that several aspects of the ALJ's decision were not supported by the medical evidence. Among the problems cited by the magistrate:

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