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IL disability lawyerWe often come across Social Security disability cases where an administrative law judge (ALJ) improperly tries to “play doctor.” In the most serious cases, the ALJ will simply ignore medical evidence outright if it poses a potential hurdle to finding the applicant is not legally disabled. Such actions violate both the letter and the spirit of disability law.

Magistrate: ALJ “Mischaracterized” Evidence Supporting Disability Claim

Fortunately, federal courts are ready and willing to call Social Security out on such behavior. This was the case in a recent decision, Karl B. v. Commissioner, where a magistrate judge said an ALJ “left some evidence out” of their decision because it “corroborated plaintiff's claims” in support of his disability application. The magistrate, therefore, ordered Social Security to conduct a new hearing.

The plaintiff in this case is a man in his early 50s. He previously held a number of jobs as a “car washer, loader, lot driver, sales representative, and sign holder,” according to court records. In his disability application, the plaintiff cited a number of impairments that prevented him from working, notably chronic pain and stomach problems arising from a 2001 armed robbery where he was shot. After an evidentiary hearing, a Social Security ALJ determined the plaintiff was not disabled and denied his application for disability benefits.

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IL disability lawyerAlthough Social Security disability insurance is a federal program, it relies on state agencies to evaluate claimants. In Illinois, the office of Disability Determination Services within the Department of Human Services will assign medical experts to review an applicant's medical history. The state reviewers' opinions are then submitted to a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ), who must consider the record as a whole before making a final decision as to whether the applicant meets the legal criteria to receive disability benefits.

Social Security Failed to Consider 400 Pages of Records in Illinois Man's Disability Case

The state agency reviewers can only do their job properly, however, when they actually have access to all of the relevant medical evidence. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. For example, an Illinois federal magistrate judge recently ordered Social Security to conduct a new hearing for a disability applicant after it came to light the state agency reviewers never considered 400 pages of medical records relevant to the case.

The plaintiff in this case, George K. v. Berryhill, suffers from a number of physical impairments. Initially, the plaintiff's problems revolved around his back, which he seriously injured at work in 2011. But starting in 2015, the plaintiff also began to suffer from seizures and other “seizure-like activity.”

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IL disability lawyerBy law, you have the right to counsel when applying for Social Security disability benefits. This means you can–and should–work with a qualified disability benefits lawyer. And while you can waive your right to counsel and represent yourself before Social Security, this is generally not in your best interests.

Court Holds Social Security Gave Disability Applicant Adequate Warnings Regarding Waiver of Counsel

A recent decision from the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago illustrates the problems with attempting to represent yourself in a disability case. The plaintiff in this lawsuit, Jozefyk v. Berryhill, initially sought disability benefits citing a number of physical and mental impairments, including depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and avoidant personality disorder.

Prior to a hearing on his disability claim before a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ), the agency sent the plaintiff several notices explaining his right to counsel. Social Security does not provide representation itself, but it does refer applicants to services that assist in finding a qualified attorney.

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