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IL disability lawyerIf you are suffering from medical conditions that make it difficult or impossible to work, you may struggle to meet your needs. Fortunately, you can apply for Social Security disability benefits, which will provide you with financial support while you are unable to work. However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) often denies benefits to applicants, leaving them unsure about their ability to support themselves. If your disability claim has been denied, you can appeal this decision, and your appeal may be based on a variety of factors, including the fact that more recent medical evidence shows that you are disabled.

Magistrate Reverses Disability Denial Based on Outdated MRI Tests

One recent Illinois case demonstrates the legal issues that can arise when Social Security bases a denial of benefits on test results that may no longer be relevant. In the case of Dennis E. C., Jr. v. Commissioner of Social Security, an administrative law judge (ALJ) had denied benefits to the plaintiff based on the opinion that he had the ability to perform work in jobs available in the economy.

The plaintiff, a 39-year-old man, had previously worked as a janitor, a warehouse freight handler, and other temporary labor positions, but he reported being unable to work because of severe back pain that made it difficult to stand or sit for extended periods. He also reported difficulty kneeling, squatting, bending, reaching, climbing stairs, and performing other work-related tasks.

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IL disability attorneyWhen seeking Social Security disability benefits, the opinions of your treating physicians will often provide crucial evidence in support of your case. But not all treating-physician opinions are treated equally. For instance, if your doctor simply confirms your own subjective reports regarding certain symptoms–such as chronic pain–without providing any further analysis, that may be of limited value to a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) reviewing your application.

Seventh Circuit Dismisses Appeal Brought by Illinois Woman with Fibromyalgia

A recent decision from the Chicago-based U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Apke v. Saul, helps to illustrate this point. In this case, a 37-year-old woman applied for disability benefits, citing a number of impairments, including fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a pain disorder that is notoriously difficult to diagnose using objective tests. As a result, Social Security often views disability claims based on fibromyalgia with increased skepticism.

This case proved to be no different. Although the plaintiff submitted expert reports from three of her treating physicians, the ALJ overseeing the case decided after holding a hearing to solicit the views of a third-party rheumatologist. Based on the rheumatologist's findings, the ALJ ultimately denied the plaintiff's application for disability benefits.

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IL disability lawyerIn Social Security disability cases filed before March 27, 2017, agency officials are normally required to give “controlling weight” to the medical opinions of your treating physicians when assessing your claim for benefits. A Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) may only depart from this controlling-weight rule by giving specific reasons, based on the available medical evidence, why the treating physician's views are contradicted by other evidence or are someone internally inconsistent.

Judge Rules ALJ Failed to Properly Follow Pre-2017 Regulations

Even though the pre-2017 rule is well understood, it is not always correctly applied. Take this recent decision from an Illinois federal judge, Rosalinda G. v. Saul. In this case, the judge ordered Social Security to conduct a new disability hearing after finding the ALJ failed to properly follow the treating-source rule.

The plaintiff here applied for disability in 2013 based primarily on her fibromyalgia. Three of the plaintiff's treating physicians presented medical evidence for her disability hearing. The ALJ assigned to the case ultimately gave “little weight” to the views of two of these doctors, and only assigned “great weight” to “aspects” of the third doctor's opinions. As you might expect, the ALJ found the plaintiff did not qualify as disabled and denied her application for benefits.

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