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Il disability lawyerWhen Social Security denies an application for disability benefits, the applicant has the right to appeal. The appeals process often includes a number of stages, including filing a formal petition for review with a federal judge, who has the authority to order Social Security to conduct a new hearing on your application.

Judge: ALJ Used “Template” Language, Failed to Explain Reasons for Rejecting Disability Claim

Your chances on appeal are much stronger if you are represented by an experienced Social Security disability attorney. But there are cases where a disability applicant has represented themselves and still managed to prevail on appeal. In fact, it happened just recently to a woman from right here in Illinois.

The plaintiff in this case first applied for disability benefits six years ago, citing her inability to work due to diabetes and blindness in one eye. A Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) held a hearing on the plaintiff's application in 2016. After hearing the plaintiff's testimony and other evidence, however, the ALJ denied the application for benefits.

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IL disability lawyerAs we have discussed many times before, it often takes many years for a disability applicant to receive a final decision from Social Security. And in many of those cases, there may be several years of additional appeals following a denial of disability benefits. During this lengthy period, many disability applicants, unfortunately, pass away. Under the law, the applicant's spouse, children, or other beneficiaries may continue to pursue the disability claim.

Magistrate Rules Social Security Failed to Properly Justify Decision Denying Now-Deceased Woman Disability Benefits

Just recently, a federal judge here in Illinois ruled in favor of a widower who sought to reverse a Social Security decision denying his late wife's claim for disability benefits. The deceased injured her back in 2012 while working at a retail store. The injury was severe enough that she required surgery. But even then, she continued to suffer from chronic leg and back pain. This eventually led to her filing an application for disability benefits in 2014.

Following a 2016 hearing, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) determined the deceased was not legally disabled. Despite her impairments, the ALJ said she could still perform “light work with certain restrictions.” The applicant died in 2017, so her husband appealed the ALJ's decision on her behalf.

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IL disability lawyerMany Illinois residents who apply for Social Security disability benefits find it impossible to focus on the types of daily tasks required by a normal workplace. Social Security's own regulations refer to a person's “concentration, persistence, and pace” to describe such difficulties. In general, if an applicant would be off-task at least 15 percent of the time due to concentration, persistence, and pace issues, that would tend to support a disability claim.

Federal Court Orders Social Security to Conduct New Disability Hearing

But this assumes Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) actually take concentration, persistence, and pace into account when evaluating a claim. This does not always happen, despite repeated warnings from federal courts that it is the law. Just recently, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago ordered Social Security to conduct a new disability hearing for a plaintiff precisely because the ALJ failed to properly account for these limitations.

The plaintiff in this case first applied for disability benefits more than eight years ago. In a 2013 examination conducted in connection with the plaintiff's application, a state agency psychiatrist determined the plaintiff suffered from major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. Among other things, this disorder meant the plaintiff had “below average levels of mental control,” which affected his concentration, persistence, and pace.

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