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IL disability attorneyThere is a tendency among Social Security officials to take claims involving psychological impairments less seriously than those involving physical impairments. Legally, this should not matter. If a person is unable to work due to a documented mental disorder, they are just as entitled to disability benefits as someone with a physical impairment. Unfortunately, that is not always the reality.

Illinois Magistrate Orders a New Hearing, Criticizes ALJ for “Playing Doctor”

Take this recent decision from an Illinois federal magistrate judge, Anthony S. v. Saul. In this case, a 55-year-old man (the plaintiff) applied for disability benefits, citing a number of psychological impairments, including post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder. After a hearing, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) determined these impairments did not prevent the plaintiff from performing some types of “light work” and denied his disability claim.

The magistrate, who reviewed the case after the plaintiff sued the Social Security Administration, noted the ALJ failed to “explicitly” state a “single theory” to explain the decision to deny benefits. Based on the content of the ALJ's decision, however, the magistrate interpreted rationale as that the plaintiff was “malingering,” i.e., the “intentional production of false or grossly exaggerated [] psychological symptoms.”

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IL disability lawyerThe Social Security disability application process often puts individuals in a bind. On the one hand, the law requires proof they are unable to hold down even a “sedentary” position. On the other hand, many applicants feel they need to at least apply for work, if for no other reason than to have some source of income while waiting to hear back from Social Security.

But will apply for a job–or even multiple jobs–doom your disability benefits application? The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees disability cases here in Illinois, has said in the past that a “job search” by itself does not discredit an applicant's disability claim. In many cases, looking for work may simply reflect a strong internal work ethic or an “overly optimistic outlook” about one's job prospects. But in other cases, Social Security or a court may consider job applications as part of the overall evidence supporting or undermining an individual's claims.

Social Security Denies Disability After ALJ Suggests Applicant “Lost His Motivation to Work”

A recent example of the latter is Primm v. Saul, a recent Seventh Circuit decision where the Court affirmed Social Security's decision to reject a disability claim. The plaintiff in this case applied for disability benefits, alleging he was unable to work from 2006 through 2014 due to a variety of impairments. A Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) determined that despite the plaintiff's ailments, he was still capable of performing “sedentary work” during the relevant period and was therefore not legally disabled.

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IL disability lawyerIt is not unusual for Social Security to initially deny a disability claim. This is why there is a process in place to request an administrative hearing, and if necessary appeal a denial. However, there are some cases where Social Security makes repeated mistakes in its handling of a disability application, to the point where the applicant may need to pursue multiple rounds of appeals just to get a fair hearing.

Big Toe Presents Big Headache for Social Security, Federal Judges

One of the more extreme examples of this came in a recent decision from a federal magistrate judge here in Illinois, Dolores R. v. Saul. In this case, the magistrate felt compelled to remand–i.e., return for a new hearing–a case back to Social Security for a third time, largely because the agency's administrative law judge (ALJ) failed to carry out the court's instructions following prior remands. And to put the timeline of this case into perspective, the plaintiff initially filed her application for disability benefits in August 2010–more than nine years ago.

An ALJ initially denied the plaintiff's application in 2012. In May 2014, a magistrate judge remanded the case for the first time. So the ALJ held a second hearing and again denied the plaintiff's application. In May 2017, a second magistrate judge remanded the case a second time. This led to the third and most-recent hearing before the ALJ, which again led to a finding the applicant did not legally qualify as disabled.

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